As Port of Miami tunnel teeters, I-95 slip ramp slides back into picture
By Risa Polansky
It seems every time the beleaguered Port of Miami tunnel project faces threats, a slip ramp onto Interstate 95 slips back into the picture. Now is no exception.
With state transportation officials planning to shelve the billion-dollar tunnel, members of Miami-Dade's Metropolitan Planning Organization's Freight Transportation Advisory Committee are again calling for the seemingly immortal ramp project they say would provide highway access and relieve some of the traffic the tunnel is designed to address.
"The loss of the port tunnel makes the need to resurrect the Sixth Street slip ramp to I-95 critical," freight committee member Doug Tannehill of transportation, logistics and sourcing company C.H. Robinson Worldwide told planning organization board members last week.
The freight committee — made up largely of cargo industry players — has pushed for the ramp for years, touting improved access for not only port-related traffic but also for all motorists to westbound State Road 836 via a ramp on Northwest Sixth Street designed to allow traffic to "slip" onto I-95.
The Florida Department of Transportation pulled the idea from its work plan in 2003 after area residents objected to it.
Metropolitan Planning Organization governing board members killed the proposal two years ago, citing potential disruption in Overtown, among other issues.
Still, undeterred freight committee members resurrected the idea in November of last year, when it was unclear whether City of Miami officials would agree to dole out the city's planned contribution to the tunnel, which is meant to relieve port traffic and direct rumbling trucks off downtown streets by connecting the port to Watson Island via underwater tubes.
Since then, all parties involved — the city, county and state — have approved the tunnel, committed funds and selected a contractor.
Sealing the deal with the concessionaire was proving tough in a down economy, but a final contract seemed imminent until the state's transportation head announced this month she'd be putting the brakes on the process, citing financing issues with the contractor.
The unexpected announcement caused a firestorm locally, with elected officials insisting the project is still viable and demanding meetings with state officials to get the project back on track.
It also made way for the resilient slip ramp to slide back into the picture.
"The slip ramp would provide a direct connection from central downtown Miami to westbound State Road 836 for all traffic," Mr. Tannehill told the planning organization board last week. "Importantly, it also provides a straight shot for trucks leaving the port heading for the warehousing district in Doral."
He asked board members to reconsider the ramp in light of the state putting the kibosh on the tunnel project.
The board did not address the issue at last week's meeting.
Gus Pego, local district secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, said in an earlier interview that the state would reconsider the slip ramp only with direction from the county planning organization and area residents.
"For us to revisit it, I think we would have to have some compelling desires of the community," he said.
Jorge Rovirosa, vice chair of the freight committee and owner of Florida Stevedoring and Farovi Shipping Corp., said the community needs the slip ramp regardless of whether the tunnel is built.
"It needs to be done whether the port tunnel gets built now, 10 years from now or next year," he said.
Other than providing access to the port, "the importance is because of all the development north of Flagler Street up the Biscayne Boulevard corridor."
The ramp — which old estimates say would cost about $20 million to build — would allow downtown residents, employees and visitors access to State Road 836.
The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project last year, calling the ramp a means of easing downtown traffic and creating more access in the area.
"We need the MPO [Metropolitan Planning Organization] to move on this," Mr. Rovirosa said. "It's very little investment for the benefit."