DOT area chief: Port tunnel fate entirely up to Miami City Commission
By Risa Polansky
Though the consortium set to dig the proposed Port of Miami tunnel has committed to holding its prices until the $1 billion-plus deal closes, a negative vote by the Miami City Commission next month could scrap the stalled project once and for all.
"If the city doesn't give a favorable vote, that's the end of the project," said Johnny Martinez, District Six secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, which has the largest stake in the tunnel: $457 million.
The city's inaction to commit its expected $50 million share has held up progress for months.
Miami-Dade County commissioners voted in July to contribute $402.5 million.
Proponents, including Mr. Martinez, feared the tunnel dead when Miami failed to meet a concessionaire-imposed Sept. 30 deadline to pledge the funds, but a plea by Mayor Manny Diaz for an extension through December yielded a long-term commitment.
"We are willing to hold those (original) prices to closing," said Matt Dallas, head of communications for Babcock & Brown, a facet of the Miami Access Tunnel consortium, last month. "Of course, we hope closing is as soon as it can be."
The consortium team is comprised of companies Bouygues Travaux Publics, Babcock & Brown and Transfield Services.
This week, a spokesperson for the project released a signed agreement between the state Department of Transportation and the Miami Access Tunnel team officially extending prices only through Dec. 17, shortly after a decision from the city is expected.
There is no more money to put toward the tunnel should the city pull out or the consortium raise its prices, state and county officials have said.
Mr. Dallas assured that "we are extending to close, and that has not changed. We remain committed."
If city commissioners vote Dec. 13 to dedicate the $50 million, prices would remain in place "as long as it takes to close," Mr. Martinez confirmed.
If the city votes no, "I believe this is the end of the line," he said. "But I could be wrong."
Should the commission defer a vote, the transportation department and the consortium could decide to extend the deadline again, he conceded, but he said in September that if it seems the tunnel won't materialize, the money "would go back to the state pot" to fund projects elsewhere.
City officials have maintained for months that using Community Redevelopment Agency funds is the only way to pay the city's share.
Commissioners voted in August as a redevelopment agency board to deny funds to the tunnel without a guarantee that the agency will recoup the money — a virtual impossibility.
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, opposes using redevelopment funds for the project "unless other priorities have been met, like affordable housing and economic development in the Overtown-Park West area," remains undecided whether she supports the project itself, according to her office.
Commissioners Tomás Regalado, Joe Sanchez and Angel González have all opposed the city contributing to the project at all.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is the only overtly pro-tunnel commissioner. He has said diverting port-related traffic from downtown streets via the proposed tunnel could foster redevelopment in the area.