County votes to continue working with city, state on plans for tunnel
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday voted to move on their share of a $1.2 billion project to build a tunnel at the Port of Miami.
The 9-3 vote ratified an agreement among the county, the City of Miami and the Florida Department of Transportation to fund a tunnel between Watson and Dodge islands, a one-mile stretch that would give truckers direct access to Interstate 395 from the port.
Commissioners Javier Souto, Natacha Seijas and Rebeca Sosa voted against the measure. Joe Martinez was absent.
Ms. Sosa said she feared that as has happened with previous projects, there would be millions of dollars in shortfalls during the project that the county ultimately would be asked to cover.
The majority of the commissioners argued that a tunnel is badly needed to relieve heavy truck traffic at the port and that waiting longer would only worsen the traffic and make a solution more expensive.
"We have to get off the dime to bring relief to the traffic," Commissioner Barbara Jordan said. "Short of a tunnel, I don't know what else we can do to divert the traffic."
The county's share of the tunnel is capped at $402.5 million.
Miami commissioners are expected to vote after an August recess on whether to approve the city's $50 million share of the project. City administrators have said they want to use community redevelopment funds, but commissioners who sit as the redevelopment agency board have resisted.
The state is responsible for the rest of the costs.
"They are the project manager, and we are a financial contributor essentially," County Manager George Burgess said.
"If we don't do a port tunnel," said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, "we've got to do something. And if we don't do a port tunnel, we're basically saying goodbye to $400 (million) or $500 (million) or $600 million in state money. It's going to go somewhere else. There are other projects that are ready to go. We've got to pull the trigger on this."
Public officials and transportation planners have spent years trying to improve access to the Port of Miami, and with traffic congestion increasing downtown, the situation is only getting worse. The tunnel is designed to help divert 1.3 million port-bound trucks per year out of Overtown and off Biscayne Boulevard.
Several commissioners conceded that any big, unpredictable capital project requires a leap of faith.
"We get paid the big bucks to sit here," Commissioner Jose Diaz said. "This is one of those situations where you can't win."