Miami-Dade County

PortMiami Tunnel to remain closed another month or more

PortMiami’s new billion-dollar tunnel, already a month past its promised opening date, won’t start carrying vehicles under Biscayne Bay for at least another four to six weeks, officials said Wednesday.

Investigators still haven’t been able to figure out the source of a mysterious and heavy vibration that knocked out two of the 44 fans — which control the tunnel’s ventilation — shortly after they were installed.

“The contractor is still in discussions with the manufacturer to find the root cause of the fan failure,” Gus Pego, the senior Florida Department of Transportation official in Miami-Dade County, said Wednesday. “And until the fans are working, the tunnel cannot open.”

The tunnel, which was scheduled to open on May 19, won’t be ready until “mid- to late July, unfortunately,” he added.

Pego made the announcement following an afternoon teleconference of 15 or so state and local officials and representatives of MAT Concessionaire, the private consortium that will operate the tunnel.

Several other problems that have vexed tunnel construction crews are either solved or nearly so, MAT Concessionaire officials said.

A preliminary test of the repair of 62 feet of leaky pipe in the system that removes rainwater from the tunnel was successful, and a final test will be conducted in about two weeks. And torque tests on bolts holding equipment to the tunnel roof are finished.

“With all the inspections, synchronizations, commissionings and tests, we’re basically down to just a few issues,” said Chris Hodgkins, vice president of MAT Concessionaire. “We need to learn more about those fans.”

The massive fans, manufactured by the Tennessee-based Clarage Fan Co., keep air moving through the tunnel. In the event of a fire or toxic spill, they become a key component of the tunnel’s safety system. They can reverse directions, pushing or pulling smoke and fumes out depending on the location of the accident.

Construction of the three-quarters-of-a-mile tunnel, which is expected to re-route as many 16,000 vehicles away from Miami’s downtown streets, began in May 2010. A grand-opening ceremony was held on schedule on May 19, but no traffic has been allowed to pass through it.

The contractor, Paris-based Bouygues, has to pay a fine of $115,000 to MAT Concessionaire every day the tunnel remains closed. The fines already total more than $3 million and will approach $8 million if the opening is delayed until late July.

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