Port tunnel a model of success

Entrance to the PortMiami Tunnel
Entrance to the PortMiami Tunnel PORTMIAMI TUNNEL

The PortMiami Tunnel is celebrating its first year of operation this week. Already, it has made a noticeable difference on the streets of downtown Miami.

On Aug. 3, 2014, the PortMiami Tunnel opened five years from its inception. The only oops was when the lead rig doing the inaugural honors broke down and had to be towed out of the way. That could have been an ominous sign of things to come, but it has been largely smooth sailing for the $643-million tunnel, which came in $90 million under budget — a feat unheard of for such massive projects. “We did it without the drama,” Christopher Hodgkins, CEO of Miami Access Tunnel, told the Editorial Board on Monday.

Built through an innovative public/private partnership, the tunnel is operated and maintained by Miami Access Tunnel, which also built the facility through a contractor, the French firm Bouygues — all with the help of a German-built tunnel boring machine.

In its first year, the tunnel has diverted 80 percent of the street-clogging cargo trucks headed for the port away from downtown Miami. Thousands of cruise-ship passengers have done the same. Now passengers landing at Miami International Airport don’t even have to get on Biscayne Boulevard. They can travel on state roads 836 or 112 and connect to I-395 east to the tunnel, which spills out at the port.

“The tunnel has been a great success,” Mr. Hodgkins said. “We have changed the quality of life in downtown Miami.’’ The tunnel’s transformative powers didn’t come cheap. Florida’s Department of Transportation will pay Miami Access $3 million month for the next 30 years to maintain and operate the tunnel. At that time, the tunnel reverts to FDOT.

Although launched just about the time Miami-Dade residents were reeling, and angry, over the owner-friendly Marlins Park deal — and therefore wary of the promises of another costly public project — Mr. Hodgkins said the tunnel won local goodwill. He credits a transparent agenda that saw more than 7,000 workers on the project, with 83 percent of them local residents. “Operation 305” made sure that Haitian Americans, African Americans and women — too often shut out of steady and lucrative construction jobs — were all invited into the fold.

“Our project was a mirror of our community,” he said. Elected officials have a responsibility to insist that other major projects follow suit. Jobs are one of the best ways to bring prosperity to families and neighborhoods that have been missing out.

The award-winning tunnel is a work of art — down to the two 50-ton metal gates that will seal it up if a major hurricane approaches. Safety is a major concern. There have been no fatalities in the tunnel. So far, there have been nearly 400 “incidents,” mainly vehicular accidents. A recent police chase ended inside the tunnel.

Since its opening, about 14,000 vehicles a day use the tunnel and pass up downtown Miami streets.

Happy birthday, PortMiami Tunnel. Job well done.