Port tunnel alternative is only viable solution for heavy downtown truck traffic, official says
By Wayne Tompkins
The Port of Miami tunnel is on political life support, and a state transportation official says there are no viable alternatives to relieving downtown truck traffic that the busy port generates.
"They are Band-Aids that don't fix the problem," Johnny Martinez said of alternative proposals such as synchronizing traffic signals and rerouting surface street traffic.
The Florida Department of Transportation district secretary said: "We looked at eight different options, and the tunnel is the only solution." The alternatives were rejected as some combination of too expensive, impractical or threatening to the environment.
A consortium of companies that is slated to build the project has set a Sunday deadline to hold costs at their current estimates. Not only are construction costs soaring, but state transportation officials have said they will divert their money to other projects if local funding is not provided. Also, any increase in the project cost would cause the state to withdraw the funding, said Mr. Martinez, who emphasized that after Sunday, the consortium is liable to raise its price.
State and county officials have committed their share of funding to the project but Miami city commissioners have balked at providing $50 million as their share to the project. The city was supposed to take up the issue at its meeting today (9/27), but the item has not been placed on the agenda.
In the meantime, Port Director Bill Johnson said he is working with a variety of officials on a series of downtown road improvements that would go forward regardless of whether the tunnel is built.
The $1 billion tunnel project would route trucks and other vehicle traffic under downtown Miami in a one-mile, four-lane subterranean link between the port and I-395, relieving congestion that generates pollution, endangers pedestrians and inconveniences truck drivers who lose both time and money sitting in downtown traffic.
Mr. Johnson also calls the tunnel a crucial piece in plans for future expansion at the port.
The port is backing a series of traffic improvements that should provide downtown motorists and pedestrians some relief while improving access to the port, Mr. Johnson said.
"Even with a port tunnel, we would need to make sure that the downtown street system works both for the business community and for the port," he said. "It's an issue of traffic light signalization, making sure that these lights are properly coordinated and synchronized."
Improvements to the expressway system in and out of downtown also are being explored.
"We must be able to move our tourists and our cargo in and out of the port in a very efficient, seamless and safe way," Mr. Johnson said.
He is working with Art Noriega, head of the Miami Parking Authority, to develop feeders off of Fifth and Sixth streets to alleviate downtown traffic congestion.
"We need to have complete, unfettered access and movement on all lanes on Second, Third, Fifth and Sixth streets. Traffic in general needs to be able to move on these major thoroughfares. We need parking meters removed from these major streets — all three lanes need to be open," he said.
"We're working with the American Airlines Arena to make sure traffic at those events doesn't interfere with traffic at the port."
While the road projects may provide some short-term relief even without the centerpiece of a tunnel, Mr. Martinez said he has not given up hope a solution to move the tunnel forward can be found.
"It's not over until it's over," Mr. Martinez said. "I'm an optimist."