Miami-Dade commissioners looking to tattle tunnel project to Obama administration
By Risa Polansky
If President Barack Obama intends to sniff out undeserving projects set to receive funds through the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package, he should also be on the hunt for worthy projects that have been left out of the initiative, Miami-Dade commissioners say.
Namely, a tunnel to the Port of Miami.
The Florida Department of Transportation did not include the $1 billion-plus tunnel project on its list of stimulus hopefuls, commissioners found at an Airport and Seaport Committee meeting last week.
They voted at a full commission meeting Tuesday to urge the Obama administration to provide funding for the tunnel through the stimulus program, to urge the Florida Congressional delegation to support funding the tunnel through the stimulus and to urge Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature to amend the state's proposed stimulus wish list to include the tunnel.
The federal stimulus program targets job-generating, shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
"I think this project [the tunnel] fits that bill really well," Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said at the committee meeting last week.
Constructing the tunnel — twin underwater tubes connecting the port with Watson Island to improve port access and keep trucks off downtown streets — would employ more than 600 workers, officials estimate.
The tunnel project is fully funded — the state's reason for keeping it out of the stimulus game.
But it's been in jeopardy for months after Florida's transportation secretary late last year decided to shelve the project, citing concerns with the selected equity partner.
After local leaders raised a stink, state officials agreed to take another look at the project and consider a suggested replacement equity partner.
They're set to make a decision by March 27.
Including the tunnel as a candidate for federal stimulus dollars could solve the problem, negating the need to heavily rely on private companies, Mr. Gimenez said last week.
He questioned whether state officials are doing their best to resuscitate the project.
"It doesn't seem that there's really a great effort to get this thing off the ground," he said.
Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said the same.
"I'm really feeling skeptical."
Mr. Gimenez raised the concern again Tuesday.
It was Commissioner Bruno Barreiro who last week suggested taking the complaint straight to the chief.
If President Obama plans to ferret unworthy projects out of the program, the county should make him aware of a project that deserves the money, Mr. Barreiro said — the tunnel.
"From his [the president's] pulpit, he could definitely shame someone into putting out a good project."