County Oks Cutback To Miami Internationals Expansion Plans
By Paola Iuspa
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Miami-Dade County commissioners Tuesday approved cutting back airport improvements, increasing the county’s control over construction of an American Airlines’ terminal and downsizing a people-mover rail to connect the airport and a proposed transportation hub.
With the move, about $7.4 billion in capital improvements at Miami International Airport was reduced to $4.8 billion. Airport Director Angela Gittens introduced the revamped budget in February after revising passenger-traffic projections, hurt by a drop in travel after Sept. 11.
New estimates by the airport’s consultants show 37 million passengers should travel through Miami International by 2015. The original $5.4 billion improvement plan approved in the early 1990s was based on 48 million passengers using the airport by 2010.
Because airport-generated revenues will pay for the upgrade, fewer travelers translate into a reduction in funds to pay for construction, Ms. Gittens said.
The approved plan calls for giving the county manager more control over how American Airlines uses funds to build the county-owned North Terminal that it will occupy. Since the terminal plan was approved in 1995, its construction cost rose from $975 million to $1.3 billion.
American Airline earlier this year said it was short $321 million to get the project done. After trimming some expenses, Miami-Dade Aviation agreed to pitch in $211 million to help close the gap, said Bill Johnson, Miami-Dade assistant county manager.
Out of the $211 million, $20 million will go to expand American’s baggage-handling system, but not until passenger traffic exceeds current projections and additional revenues are collected, Ms. Gittens said.
Commissioners also approved realigning the planned people-mover rail line, originally estimated at $300 million. Instead of stopping at each of the airport’s three terminals to take travelers back and forth to the Miami Intermodal Center, or central station, it will only stop at the central terminal.
The change is projected to save the county $78 million. The Florida Department of Transportation agreed to help with $80 million.
Ms. Gittens said her department would review the capital improvement project every year to adjust it to passenger flow and revenues.
"This is a living and breathing document," she said. "It is a business plan responsive to the demand and revenues."
Commissioner Javier Souto asked the aviation department to send statistics showing Miami International’s passenger volume to the commission every month.
Many of the projects that were cut from the $4.8 billion plan became part of phase two, an unfunded part of the project to take place between 2010-15.