County eyeing funding options for port tunnel
By Charlotte Libov
With bidders lined up to tunnel to the Port of Miami from Watson Island, Miami-Dade County is trying to determine how to fund its half of the $1 billion-plus bill and how to get the City of Miami to help.
The Florida Department of Transportation has the other half covered, says project spokesman Ric Katz.
"FDOT's financing is secure," he said. "It has its money lined up - it always has had. The concept had always been that the county has a portion of it to deal with, and we will move forward only when the county is prepared to do so."
Assistant County Manager Carlos F. Bonzon said his staff is trying to decide how to pay its share.
"We are looking at different options as to how we would finance our 50% of the deal," Mr. Bonzon said. "We want to make sure that we can afford it and that we can afford it in a way that will make the Port of Miami competitive with our competition."
Freight companies and the cruise industry would pay to use the tunnel, he said, so the tunnel can't be so costly that they'll go elsewhere.
"We are looking at every possible option to see if we can afford it," Mr. Bonzon said. "Then we need to sit down with the FDOT on how to finance it because we both agree that we need it."
Miami officials will eventually be asked to help foot the bill, he said, but "we would need to sit down with them and discuss it."
Whichever team of companies wins the bid to link the port with MacArthur Causeway to get traffic off downtown streets is to finance the tunnel and be repaid over 35 years.
Mr. Katz said he hopes the state and the county can agree soon to avoid delay. The state is to pick a bidder by year's end and the companies need time to prepare proposals, he said. "The need for this tunnel is demonstrated on the streets of Miami every single day."
All three teams seeking to build a tunnel linking the Port of Miami to Watson Island were deemed qualified and will be allowed to compete for the $1 billion-plus project.
According to project spokesman Ric Katz, the three consortiums that met last month's deadline to submit documents attesting to their qualifications were selected by the Florida Department of Transportation. They now will answer formal requests for proposals. The winning bidder is to be selected in December.
"The three teams that submitted by the deadline are now the three that have been short-listed," Mr. Katz said. "What took place in-between the official deadline and last week was that the department used its resources to confirm the information that was provided as to the various parties' qualifications. Experts looked at the qualifications to make sure they stood up, and all three did."
The transportation department, he said, is refining its request for proposals, which is to be released to the bidders as soon as the state and county agree on how to finance the project.
The tunnel would link the Port of Miami to MacArthur Causeway, enabling traffic to flow onto Interstate 395, bypassing downtown Miami.
Teams planning to compete for the job are:
nConsortium Miami Access Tunnel - Bouygues Travaux Publics S.A. and Abn Amro Bank N.V.
bFCC Construccion S.A. - Morgan Stanley-FCC Construction S.A., Morgan Stanley, Hatch Mott MacDonald, Edwards & Kelcey.
nMiami Mobility Group - Dragados Concesiones de Infraestucturas S.A. and subsidiary Dragados USA, Inc., Odebrecht Investimentos em Infra-Estrutura LTDA and subsidiary Odebrecht Construction Inc., Parsons Transportation Group Inc. and DMJM Harris.
Bill Berry, vice president for the Southeast for Hatch Mott MacDonald, was preparing Monday to fly from Atlanta to Miami, where he and fellow team members plan to spend the rest of this week working on the project.
"We need to begin to think about it and get our arms around it, so to speak, so we're ready for the RFP when we see it," Mr. Berry said.
The plan to go to Miami had been made in advance because his team was confident it would make the short list, Mr. Berry said.
"We're one of the premier tunnel-engineering firms in the world, and any time there's a large tunnel project, we're going to look at it. This one certainly fits that mold," he said. "It's a mighty challenging project, but we're in good company. The three teams are all very capable."
J. Francois LaLonde, manager for business development for Bouygues, said he appreciates that the project is to be a public/private partnership and the team selected is not only to construct the tunnel but to design and operate it as well.
"On a typical building project, you need to consider a tender, with the drawings done and already prepared," Mr. LaLonde said. "In this case, there is no design, so it is left up to the company which will be operating it for 35 years to design it and find the best way to do it. Otherwise, you're locked into a design and you might not be able to adhere to it, which is not desirable because you're undertaking the risk for a number of years."
David Peebles, director of business development for Odebrecht and spokesman for the Miami Mobility Group, said that while he was pleased his team was short-listed, he was confident "that we would be." But, he added, he is pleased that "there is competition and alternatives to review because it's not just a construction, but also to design, build and finance the project."
And, he said, if there had been a sole bidder, it would always be questioned. "It's like a beauty contest. If there's only one candidate, you wonder whose daughter she was."