Port of Miami tunnel builder getting take-it-or-leave-it choice
By Risa Polansky
To keep the Port of Miami tunnel project running on schedule, it's up to the selected contractor to answer one question: are you in, or are you out?
In a victory for local leaders, state officials agreed last week to resume talks with the original contractor tapped to dig twin tunnels to the port, reviving the $1 billion-plus project after months of uncertainty.
The plan is to start back at square one: the original bid the contractor team made in 2007, County Manager George Burgess says.
In nearly two years, the state had yet to cement a final contract with the selected builder, and its price demand escalated over time — to the tune of $80 million, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos told Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez by letter last week.
Now, "those things that transpired that increased the cost, or shifted the cost — we want to basically go back to what the original bid was, so that would predate any cost shift to the state," Mr. Burgess said in an interview.
If an agreement isn't set by June 1, he said, the state would take the project back out to bid — with local officials' support.
Miami-Dade leaders had been pressing the state to keep working with the chosen team to avoid the lengthy re-procurement process Ms. Kopelousos recommended after trying to shelve the project altogether.
She relented last week.
Business terms must be set by June 1 and the contractor team must secure financing by Oct. 1.
As far as the terms, "I'm not going to get into the details now because I believe it to be premature," Mr. Burgess told commissioners Tuesday. "But they're going to be absolute, and they're going to go back to the beginning of things. And we're not talking about negotiating anything. We're talking about "are you in, or are you out?' And in — great. Out — fine. The state would then re-procure with our blessings."
In 2007, the team set a $33.2 million annual maximum availability payment — part of the amount paid to the developer so long as tunnel elements are available as needed.
It was the lowest bid at the time.
The state is set to pay $457 million for the project, the county $402 million and the city $88 million.
Ms. Kopelousos, who last week warned of a price hike, declined Monday through a spokesman to comment.
Representatives of French construction company Bouygues Travaux Publics, part of the team chosen to dig the tunnels, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Mr. Burgess said today's economy offers a chance to get better pricing for the project.
"It was important in our minds to at least attempt to take one last shot at the current procurement in the interest of saving time," he told commissioners. "We believe that the economics, the climate right now, is ideal for somebody to step back and look at things. Between the cost of the project and the cost of the money, it's a good opportunity."
Re-procuring the project could take 11 to 12 months, he said.
Local officials hope to get tunnels dug by 2014 to coincide with the opening of an expanded Panama Canal and the larger cargo ships it's expected to bring Miami-Dade's way.