River Officials Consider Plan To Lighten Ports Load
Written by Eric Kalis on March 29, 2007
By Eric Kalis
Miami River officials are considering a plan to use light barges to move cargo from the Port of Miami up the river as a short-term remedy for downtown traffic congestion.
The light-barge approach is seen as a temporary way to alleviate downtown truck traffic near the port while construction is under way on the planned $1.2 billion port tunnel, Miami River officials say. Containers would flow on barges to a staging area on the river and from there be loaded onto trucks. An area with easy access to State Road 112 is among options to be explored, officials say.
Consultants from national engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates are to present a draft April 2 to the Miami River Commission describing a short-sea shipping operation in which containers put on barges at the port are towed upriver as part of the river’s Corridor Multi-Modal Transportation Plan. River officials have worked with transportation agencies on the Miami-Dade County and state levels for several years to create the plan, a long-term blueprint for the river.
A short-sea operation "would significantly reduce truck traffic downtown," said Irela Bagué, river commission chairwoman.
The river commission is to vote on the transportation plan May 7.
Short-sea shipping could make freight transportation more efficient while the port tunnel is being built. It may not be finished until 2013, river officials say.
Instead of using trucks near the port or ships to move cargo from the port, containers would be put on light barges with more capacity and facility to navigate the river’s narrows. Ships haven’t been able to use the river at times because of tide constraints in recent years, said Jim Murley, chairman of the river’s Urban Infill Working Group.
While the stalled $74 million river dredging wouldn’t have to be done before launching short-sea shipping, the system would be inefficient unless dredging were done, river officials say. Dredging has been on hold six months while river officials seek federal and state funds to finish the final nine of 15 phases.
Finding a way to complete dredging is critical to the river’s economic future before focusing on freight transportation, Mr. Murley said.
"Everything starts with dredging," he said. "As a global enterprise, the river needs flexibility. Time is money for any transportation system."
Short-sea shipping is in the conceptual stages, said Fran Bohnsack, director of the Miami River Marine Group, industry professionals who advise the river commission. It isn’t yet clear who would control and fund the operation or how much it would cost, she said. Once the transportation plan is approved, the river commission would probably promote — but not fund or implement — the project, she said.
"We are not quite ready to talk about costs," she said. "We are working on various formulas. It might inhibit participation if we threw out a number that is too high."