Metrorail Orange line extension to cost Miami-Dade County $13 million more
By Lou Ortiz
After spending $44 million on a consultant over three years to plan and design the Metrorail Orange line extension, Miami-Dade County will have to pay an additional $13 million to get the job done.
Commissioners grumbled and complained after being told last week by the county's administration staff that the final $9 million of the $44 million contract that the commission approved for program management, planning and design of the extension's three major projects would not be enough.
At issue is the third phase of the project outlined in the contract with the firm Parsons BrinckerhoffQuade and Douglas, and the absence of a definite route for the east-west corridor expansion.
The east-west project calls for a 10- to 13-mile extension from the Miami Intermodel Center near Miami International Airport to Florida International University.
Once the money runs out this year "we'll be back before this board asking for more," Assistant County Manager Ysela Llort told commissioners. "We have been frank throughout this process."
But Commissioner Sally A. Heyman called the matter "an insult. Nobody tries to stop the escalating costs."
Ms. Heyman questioned why the county couldn't do some of the consultant tasks in-house. She also said the use of outside consultants "needs to be revisited so we can get a better return for our money."
Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said he hasn't seen any progress in the east-west extension project.
"I want to see it completed in my children's lifetime," he said. "This is not good."
Mr. Diaz said the proposed route had changed at least three times in the past seven to eight months. The east-west extension "is becoming a series of tragic events," he said. "We have no true plan in front of us. It's a never ending story."
Commissioner Joe A. Martinez was blunter.
"This is probably going to be a waste of money," he said. "The alignment [route] hasn't been totally decided yet."
The final $9 million is expected to carry the county through this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. But the county is expected to be asked for another $13 million in consulting fees in the 2008-09 fiscal year and possibly more in the succeeding years.
Miami-Dade Transit is looking at "all possible alignments" because to get the federal government to pay for 50% percent of the east-west extension construction costs, the demand (or ridership) for the project must be cost-effective, said Albert Hernandez, deputy director of Engineering, Planning & Development for Miami-Dade County.
The first phase of the project will connect the Earlington Heights Metrorail station to the Miami Intermodal Center, a span of 2.4 miles totaling $290 million in construction costs. It will be built with state and local funds, coming from the transit plan approved by voters in 2002 that resulted in a 0.5% sales tax surcharge.
Phase two of the project is the north corridor extension that calls for 9.5 miles of rail to the Broward County line along Northwest 27th Avenue.
Construction costs for phases two and three combined are estimated at more than $2 billion.
"Federal dollars are vital," County Manager George Burgess told commissioners. "There's no alternative than to go through the federal process."
But Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez asked if there would come a time when someone in the administration would tell commissioners "if it [the project] is not going to pan out?"
"How much money have we wasted on this federal process?" asked Mr. Gimenez.
In costs related to the consultant, Commissioner Natacha Seijas questioned why the firm and not county staff — such as the fire department — was asked to investigate a fire at the Northside station of the Metrorail line, and why county engineers were not asked to assess the damage.
Mr. Hernandez said the matter was an emergency and the transit agency needed the advice of a structural engineer but the repairs were made by county workers
But Mr. Hernandez told commissioners he could not explain another issue that was raised by Ms. Seijas, concerning the consultant responding to a public records request instead of the county.
County departments are charged with and handle a wide-range of such requests.
"I can't," Mr. Hernandez said, "respond to that directly."