Tunnel terror: dead end under Biscayne Bay if funds dry up
By Risa Polansky
A half dug tunnel under Biscayne Bay — that's the mental image haunting some Miami-Dade commissioners as the state plans a raid on the Transportation Trust Fund that backs major projects like tunnels to the Port of Miami.
A local Florida Department of Transportation official says it's unlikely the $1 billion tunnels project would be affected.
But budget constraints have stopped projects before.
In Tallahassee, legislators are considering tapping the gas-tax-fueled transportation pot as one way to help fill a $3.2 billion state budget gap.
A feared $400 million-plus sweep looks now more like $160 million, but the budget won't be final until at least the end of the month.
Until then, local impact is unclear.
But the proposed transportation trust raid is "placing the port and placing the improvements that were committed to this county in a category of high risk," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, the county's legislative liaison, at a committee meeting last week. "Money's there to start the tunnel, but if that move happens, then the money won't be there to finish the tunnel."
What happens if the boring machine is "halfway underneath Government Cut?" Commissioner Carlos Gimenez asked.
"I really hope we're never at that point," said Alice Bravo, local state transportation district director of transportation systems development.
But that's talking hope, Commissioner Gimenez told Ms. Bravo, rather than saying "the money is there and we're going to complete this project."
The money is there now, Ms. Bravo told him.
Officials will have to reassess all project plans once state cuts are final.
"Our no. 1 goal is obviously not to stop a project that is already underway," she said.
House budget chief David Rivera of Miami has reportedly said current projects won't be interrupted.
Preliminary tunnel work has already begun, with a groundbreaking for road construction planned for early June.
Also, Ms. Bravo said, because of the complex tunnel contract with a private consortium, "that would be one of the last projects impacted."
Miami Access Tunnel is to finance, design, build, operate and maintain the twin underwater tunnels.
Government contributions during construction are fairly small, with a $350 million "major" payment due when the project is complete in 2014.
"It's sufficiently out in the future," Ms. Bravo said.
Still, Mr. Gimenez asked again whether it's possible Miami-Dade could be left with half-built tunnels.
Other states have had to shut down all projects because of revenue constraints, Ms. Bravo said.
And it's happened here in Florida.
Two decades ago, the department of transportation had to halt projects, which later resumed.
The off-again-on-again tunnel project has seen its share of tumult over the years before the state, county, City of Miami and contractor sealed the deal in October.
"We thought we had it," Commissioner Dorrin Rolle said. "Now someone is trying to take it from us again…. It seems that the battle continues."