County transit board to consider moving port freight by rail
By Suzy Valentine
A Miami-Dade County transportation board last week agreed to review the movement of Port of Miami freight by rail although a key proponent says port officials are skeptical.
When the Metropolitan Planning Organization Governing Board met Thursday, members considered solutions to a funding shortfall for a planned $1 billion-plus port tunnel.
Highlighting deficiencies with the county's road network, Miami City Commissioner Johnny Winton suggested a modification to a resolution to incorporate a review of movement of port freight by rail.
"The port tunnel is going to pop up on Watson Island, jump off (State Road) 836 and go right by the $450 million Miami Performing Arts Center and a tremendous number of new condos," said Mr. Winton, "and all the cargo traffic is going to go right through there."
A feasibility study is expected to be ready by the end of the year. Mr. Winton said that is only part of the solution - the method of transporting goods through the tunnel is its complement.
"My concern is that once the cargo containers go over the river, they're going to get half a mile down the road and in 15 or 20 years, they're not going to go anywhere," he said, "because the cargo all has to go to west Miami-Dade because 836 is a mess and it's going to be worse."
Viability of transporting freight by rail, he said, was discussed Oct. 17 at the port.
"There are significant forces opposed to this analysis, and they're principally coming from the port," Mr. Winton said. "They don't want this analysis done. They're already convinced it doesn't work. They told me."
Meanwhile, he said, officials at Florida East Coast Industries, which owns rights of way that are part of the project, has been cooperative, he said.
"I've had extensive discussions with President Adolfo Henriques and others from Florida East Coast Industries," Mr. Winton said. "The suggestion is that we look at a feasibility analysis to determine the impact of moving as much cargo as we can off the port by rail. We'd have to put the rail line in a tunnel or open trench.
"I don't know what the appropriate vehicle is, and nobody else does right now. It would go (north) to 72nd Street and then go due west."
The original resolution before the governing board directed staff to develop a plan to finance the unfunded portion project and to identify additional improvements to help fill needs of the port - including rail access and other improvements.
Mr. Winton suggested and the board accepted a modification that added an obligation to commission an independent, objective study funded by the organization on the viability and cost of rail access from Miami to the port by surface or tunnel.