Unfunded road projects key links to Port of Miami tunnels
By Scott Blake
As if drilling twin $600 million-plus tunnels under Biscayne Bay to the Port of Miami isn't challenging enough, traffic through the seaport is projected to skyrocket in coming years — raising issues for everyone from government officials to residents, business owners and commuters.
Transportation officials last week celebrated the lowering of a huge steel cutter-head into the ground to bore the tunnels. Meanwhile, they acknowledge that it is going to take hundreds of millions of dollars more in road projects to address the port's future traffic problems.
And right now, they don't know exactly where the money will come from.
Traffic around the port "is not a pleasant experience," says Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Brian Rick.
The side-by-side tunnels are planned to be part of the solution, giving thousands of vehicles a day from the port's cargo and cruise business a second entry point and exit.
Currently, the only way for traffic in and out of the port is a bridge that connects downtown Miami to the port on Dodge Island, forcing freight trucks, buses and other vehicles through congested business districts and residential neighborhoods.
In addition to safety issues, the situation doesn't mesh with the new vision for downtown — as a vibrant area mixing business, housing and tourism, says Madeline Pumariega, interim dean of Miami Dade College's downtown campus, where about 16,000 students go to school.
"It's hard to create that walk-through feeling when you have trucks coming through," she says.
A 2009 traffic study found about 16,000 vehicles daily travel to and from the port through downtown streets, including nearly 4,500 cargo trucks a day. The study projected that port-related traffic will increase to 70,000 vehicles a day by 2033.
Port Director Bill Johnson calls the seaport, along with Miami International Airport, Greater Miami's two main "economic engines." Already the world's busiest cruise port, officials plan to grow the seaport's cargo business, taking advantage of larger freight vessels that are expected to come through the Panama Canal once improvements to the canal are completed in 2014.
The opening of the port tunnels, also slated for 2014, is part of the vision for a bigger and better seaport. The 4,200-foot-long tunnels will be accessible from the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island and run under the port's cruise ship channel before emerging on Dodge Island. Officials expect that most of the port's trucks and buses, as well as 80% of passenger vehicles, will use the tunnels instead of going through downtown.
The funding for the tunnels — a mix of government and private financing — already is secured. However, an estimated $400 million more will be needed to rebuild Interstate 395 to handle future traffic increases due to the tunnels and other factors, says Florida Department of Transportation Project Manager Vilma Croft.
The state has started early planning for rebuilding I-395, which runs east from Interstate 95 to the MacArthur Causeway. However, no funding has been set aside yet and those decisions still could be years away, while construction wouldn't start until 2021, Ms. Croft says.
In the interim, the state will make about $7 million in road improvements to the I-395/MacArthur Causeway area by 2014 to help handle the additional traffic, she says.
Until more meaningful road work can be done, the tunnels at least should ease traffic congestion downtown.
Right now, Mr. Rick says, "there's no direct connectivity when coming from I-95 to the port."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.