Miami-Dade’s airport and seaport thriving, directors say

At PortMiami, the $1 billion port tunnel project that connects the mainland to Dodge Island is on time and on budget, several new cruise ships will soon call the port home, and the deep dredging at Government Cut means the port will soon be able to support the huge vessels that will cruise through the new Panama Canal.

Miami International Airport, meanwhile, has undergone a $6.3 billion overhaul, completed a 72-lane Customs and immigration facility designed to speed up passenger traffic to connecting flights, and could soon embark on a massive mixed-use project dubbed Airport City.

Those and other improvements were highlighted Wednesday during the annual “state of the ports’’ luncheon, a two-hour gathering of nearly 1,100 people at the Miami Airport Convention Center.

“There has never been a more exciting time at Miami International Airport than right now,” said Airport Director Jose Abreu.

Said Port Miami Director Bill Johnson: “2012 was a very good year, but looking ahead — and I like to look ahead — I can tell you that we are well positioned to continue our successes.”

Johnson credited PortMiami with helping create 207,000 jobs last year. Abreu said MIA broke a traffic record last year with 39.5 million passengers.

Abreu was hired in 2005 to turn around the limping airport renovation project. His last day with the county is March 31. He’s taking a consulting job with Pennsylvania-based construction and engineering company that has a Miami office.

“At the end of the day I’m a civil engineer,” he said. “They brought me in there to finish the capital improvement project, and we did.”

Despite all the cheerleading, not everything at Miami-Dade’s ports is hunky-dory.

Cargo freight at PortMiami has seen only modest gains since the economy tanked in 2008. There’s still the threat of a union strike that could cripple cargo movement across the country, and the port’s largest passenger cruise client, Carnival Cruise Lines, has had three on-board ship fires — including one this week — that have left vessels stranded at sea in recent years.

At the airport, despite the completion of the $180 million state-of-the-art immigration and Customs facility at the North Terminal, Abreu has been arguing with the feds about a lack of personnel. The airport director said he was promised enough staff to operate the 72 lanes, but only has enough workers to operate half that number.

“People are still missing connections; it’s an issue,” he said.

Few doubt that the proposed Airport City would make a great addition to MIA. The $512 million, 33-acre project would let visitors shop, eat, play, and work all within a short ride on the airport’s new MIA Mover. But politics could get in the way.

That’s because Odebrecht USA — the developer on the project — is a subsidiary of a Brazilian engineering-and-construction conglomerate that has another affiliate doing work in the Port of Mariel. That prompted local lawmakers to sponsor state legislation last year that would halt state and local governments from hiring firms whose affiliates work in Cuba.

The law was found unconstitutional, but the state is appealing.

A previous version of this article misstated the cost and acreage of the Airport City project. The 33-acre project is expected to cost $512 million, with an estimated economic impact of $827 million.

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