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Halfway done: Port tunnel drilling reaches a milestone

The making of an under-the-bay tunnel from the MacArthur Causeway to PortMiami reached a milestone Tuesday when the giant boring machine completed half the journey through Government Cut eight months after the digging began.

Now that one side of the tunnel has been carved out, the machine will be taken apart, turned around and pointed in the opposite direction to dig another tunnel back toward Watson Island.

Once completed, the tunnel will funnel semi-trucks straight off the interstate into the port. Right now, 18-wheelers must drive through downtown Miami to reach the port.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says big trucks rumbling through downtown makes the area less attractive to potential developers and residents...

“It's also a lot of wear and tear on the streets,” he said. “It's also, as a pedestrian, pretty scary to walk around down there."

Now that the job is half done, the machine will be readied to dig back from Dodge Island to the MacArthur. But first there’s the issue of turning it around.

Miami Access Tunnel Vice President Christopher Hodgkins says it will take two to three months to spin the machine, which is four stories high and as long as a football field. So how will it be done?

Workers will use cranes, lifts and a platter that works like a rotating buffet dish.

The machine, known as Harriet, has drilled at a rate of 20 feet per day since November. It will take another six months or more to bore the second tube back toward the MacArthur Causeway.

Each tube will house a two-lane underground highway that project officials hope will draw a majority of the cargo trucks that now meander through downtown streets to reach the port. The tunnel will provide the first direct link to the port from area expressways such as Interstate 95 and State Rd. 836, which connect with the MacArthur Causeway.

The tunnel project is on schedule to be finished by late spring 2014. It just one part of PortMiami’s bigger expansion plans that include dredging the port.