Port of Miami to ask county for improvements to roads
By Shannon Pettypiece
Road projects including a new Interstate 95 ramp and synchronizing downtown traffic lights could speed traffic through the Port of Miami and retain shipping companies, port officials said.
The Port of Miami on Oct. 23 will ask the Metropolitan Planning Organization to approve a plan to improve the main roads between I-95 and the port and Fifth and Sixth streets.
"If it costs too much in time and dollars the cargo will go elsewhere... this is Miami vs. any other port on the Eastern Seaboard," said Bruce Brecheisen, vice president of shipping firm Seaboard Marine.
Within three years the US Department of Transportation also plans to start work on a ramp connecting I-95 to State Route 836 (Dolphin Expressway) to speed the trip between the expressway and the port. The county Metropolitan Planning Organization has approved the ramp.
Today, truckers traveling to the port can only get to State Road 836 by taking First Street to I-395 because heavy traffic makes it too dangerous to go from I-95 to 836 on the current roadways, said Port of Miami engineer Carl Fielland.
The new I-95 ramp, now in preliminary design, and repairs to current downtown ramps will cost $20 million, most of which will come from the federal government, and the 18-month construction project will start in 2005 or 2006, he said.
The Port of Miami is proposing an additional $4 million plan to repave Fifth and Sixth streets, lower them so high trucks could clear bridges and synchronize the seven traffic lights on the strip.
If the Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the plan this month it could be done by 2007 or 2008 and financed by the port.
But these improvements will only be a temporary solution until a tunnel to the port or bridge over Biscayne Boulevard is built, port officials said.
The Fifth and Sixth street improvement was originally due for a Metropolitan Planning Organization hearing in September, but Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler asked that it be deferred.
"This would provide substantial relief, not total relief," Mr. Brecheisen said. "In the long run there is going to need to be a tunnel or some sort of port-traffic-only corridor."
The only road to the port is nestled between the American Airlines Arena and Bayside Market Place and is often in the middle of major events such as the Grand Prix. During last weekend's Grand Prix traffic was backed up for miles, said Jorge Rovirosa, Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co. general manager.
Cargo shipments to the port have an annual economic impact in Miami-Dade County of $8 billion and create 45,000 jobs, the port says.
Traffic problems at the port could hurt Miami's bid for the Free Trade Area of the Americas headquarters, or secretariat, said President of the Florida Foreign Trade Association Ralph Puga.
"Almost every other city places a high priority on entrance to the port and you don't have to go that far - go to Port Everglades," Mr. Puga said. "It kind of sets us back a bit."