Port tunnels readied to open in May
Written by Scott Blake on March 5, 2014
After years of planning and construction costing more than $1 billion, PortMiami’s twin-tunnel system is slated to open to public traffic in the third week of May.
The tunnels’ first official day of operation should be May 19 or 20, said Chris Hodgkins, vice president for MAT Concessionaire LLC, the project’s contractor, also known as Miami Access Tunnel.
“They’ll be open to traffic – both cruise and cargo – with no tolls,” he said this week.
Before that happens, “there is a massive amount of detail work to do,” he added. “There are hundreds of guys going in and out” of the tunnels doing work. “It’s like an ant farm.”
The tunnels were dug with a massive boring machine, and the roads inside have been laid.
The final touches, such as electrical conduits and a fire deluge system, are being installed. And workers who will staff control centers at both ends of the tunnels on Watson and Dodge islands are being trained, Mr. Hodgkins said.
Financing of the project closed in October 2009. Construction started in May 2010. Mining of the tunnels began in November 2011 and was completed in May 2013.
The twin one-way tunnels will provide road access to PortMiami from the MacArthur Causeway. Traffic will be able to turn off the causeway on Watson Island, travel under a section of Biscayne Bay known as Government Cut, and emerge inside the seaport on Dodge Island. And traffic will be able to leave the port the same way through a separate tunnel.
Prior to the tunnels, the only access point was the port’s entrance road off Biscayne Boulevard, forcing traffic to travel through downtown. The tunnels will allow cars and trucks to access the port from Miami’s highway system, bypassing the central business district.
A study found that nearly 16,000 vehicles travel to and from the seaport through downtown streets each weekday. It found that truck traffic makes up 28% of that total.
Existing truck and bus routes through downtown, according to proponents of the project, have restricted the port’s ability to grow, have driven up costs for port users, and have presented safety hazards.
Port traffic moving through downtown also has congested and limited redevelopment of the northern portion of the central business district, they said.
Mr. Hodgkins said the tunnels will open on schedule and on budget, although that doesn’t take into account about $60 million taken from the project’s contingency fund.
The project’s original construction cost was set at $643 million, but about another $60 million was spent to solidify the ground around the tunnels with grout to provide a more supportive structure for the boring and to ensure the tunnels remain water-tight, he said.
In addition to the roughly $700 million for construction, MAT Concessionaire is to receive $350 million upon successful completion of the project. The project is a public-private partnership between MAT, the Florida Department of Transportation, Miami-Dade County (the port’s owner), and the City of Miami.
The state agreed to pay half the design and construction costs and all operations and maintenance once the tunnels open. The remaining 50% of the design and construction costs is being provided by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, according to the project’s website.
In addition to designing and building the tunnels, MAT Concessionaire – a partnership between French industrial conglomerate Bouygues and Australian construction services firm Transfield Services – will operate and maintain the tunnels for 30 years after opening. Instead of collecting tolls, MAT will receive payments from the state to operate and maintain the tunnels.
“Over the following 30-plus years, availability payments will be subject to deduction if there are unplanned lane closures or deficiencies in providing a safe, well-maintained facility, with higher deductions during peak periods,” Jeffrey Parker, an advisor for the Florida Department of Transportation, wrote about the project.
At the end of MAT’s contract in 2044, the tunnels are to be turned over to the state Department of Transportation.
“The Port of Miami Tunnel is a first in the US – a technically challenging transport construction project implemented through a public-private partnership where no tolls are charged,” Mr. Parker noted.
The project also introduced new tunnel-boring technology to the US, he said, adding: “These benefits have long been realized in European and Asian transport construction, and now the US is poised to start catching up.”