TRANSPORTATION

Miami airport transit hub on the way to bringing planes, trains, automobiles under one roof

 

achardy@ElNuevoHerald.com

Now that the PortMiami tunnel has been dedicated and the reversible toll lanes on Interstate 595 have opened, a third major South Florida transportation project is headed toward completion.

The massive Miami Intermodal Center, just east of Miami International Airport, is expected to be ready in the fall when its last remaining component — the Miami Central Station — officially opens.

Known as the MIC, the transit center is the costliest of the three projects, with a price tag of $2 billion, followed by $1.8 billion for the reconstruction of the reversible lanes on I-595 and $1 billion for the under-the-bay tunnel.

“The Miami Intermodal Center will become the county’s main transportation hub,” said Gus Pego, head of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Miami office. “If you’re a resident or a tourist, the MIC allows for a safe, efficient and seamless connection for either regional and interstate travel by all modes of transportation: air, Metrorail, Metrobus, automobile or bike.”

Once the MIC is fully operational, a traveler could board a bus in Florida City, travel north on the South Miami-Dade Busway, transfer to Metrorail at Dadeland and head to the hub on the Orange Line to the airport. Then that traveler could take a Tri-Rail commuter train to West Palm Beach, an Amtrak long-distance train to New York or a transatlantic flight to Paris — all from the MIC.

Some South Florida residents are already using the MIC to connect between transit services. Natasha Orozco López boarded a bus in Homestead Thursday and traveled the busway to Dadeland where she boarded the Metrorail to the MIC, where she met a friend from Brazil.

“This is a great transportation hub,” said Orozco López, who was traveling through the MIC. “I came here from Homestead. I got on the bus and then Metrorail and got off here to get to the airport.”

Connecting all major transportation services in Miami-Dade County in a single hub is the central goal of MIC planners. Those transportation modes include airplanes, rental cars, intercity and local bus services, as well as commuter, heavy-rail and long-distance trains.

The transportation hub is not technically part of Miami International Airport, but serves as a satellite terminal because it is just east of the airfield and a few blocks from LeJeune Road. It is also connected to the airport via an automated train known as the MIA Mover. The mover allows arriving airline passengers to use the MIC to get to the car rental center or trains and buses — without ever having to step outside the hub area.

This is how planners conceived operations at the MIC since the idea formed in the early 1980s. That’s when county officials realized they needed “connectivity” among transportation services so people in communities in southern and western Miami-Dade could get to their downtown jobs easily and quickly, not just in Miami but also Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

But it wasn’t until 2001 that construction began on an improved roadway system around the MIC and on the first major component.

The car rental center gathered in one, safe location instead of having the various companies scattered in an area east of the airport, not far from where the MIC now rises.

The center was the first major MIC component, opening in July 2010. One of the benefits of the new center was easing of what once had been perennial traffic congestion on the airport roads where passengers are dropped off and picked up. The center’s opening eliminated the need for multiple shuttle buses that circulated on those airport roads to pick up or drop off car rental customers, MIC public affairs manager Ric Katz said.

Initially, individual rental car company shuttle buses were consolidated into one. But that shared bus service also ended when the MIA Mover went into operation in September 2011. The MIA Mover is the automated elevated train that runs between airport terminals and the MIC.

The next major component to open marked a milestone in transit services in Miami-Dade County. The new Metrorail MIA station, which started service in July 2012, serves as the starting point for the first new line for the county’s heavy-rail system that began operations 30 years ago with a single line. The Orange Line, which runs from MIA to the Dadeland South station, is now one of Metrorail’s most popular services with international travelers and airport employees among its main users.

Still to come: the rest of the Miami Central Station, considered the MIC’s crown jewel.

It will serve as Miami-Dade's first all-inclusive ground transportation hub. Located east of the Rental Car Center, the MCS will feature grade level tracks for Tri-Rail, Amtrak, intercity and future high-speed rail service. Metrobus and Metrorail’s Orange Line MIA stations are also part of the new facility, with construction nearly complete, Katz said.

A major glitch in the construction, discovered and eventually fixed, marred the MCS project.

In January 2013, FDOT acknowledged that it learned only after construction had begun that the platform that will serve Amtrak at the MCS was about 200 feet too short, meaning that some trains would jut north into busy Northwest 25th Street. FDOT, which based the design on erroneous information from Amtrak, at first considered permanently closing the street and rerouting traffic. But FDOT officials eventually discarded that option after Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa objected and business and property owners on 25th Street complained.

FDOT eventually settled on the cheapest solution: keeping 25th Street open, but with the caveat that it will close for up to 45 minutes twice a day during peak seasons when long Amtrak trains arrive. To reroute traffic when the delays occur, FDOT agreed to build two short new streets in the area to provide alternate routes.

Meanwhile, FDOT is negotiating an agreement with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority — whose headquarters are located across from the MIC — to manage the facility.

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