Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The "Big Dig" is coming to Miami


MVB has a hard time understanding Miami's rush toward replicating Boston's infamous "Big Dig" tunneling project. It was announced today that plans for building a $1.2 billion truck tunnel connecting the Port of Miami to Watson Island are "falling into place." You'd think public servants everywhere would have learned something after watching what happened in Boston. That debacle, which started out costing $2.5 billion in 1985, turned out to be, according to CNN, the "most expensive highway project in America". Its final cost is an estimated heart-stopping $14.6 billion in public dollars.

For our "little tunnel", the state has already set aside $600 million for its 50 percent share in the deal. Unfortunately for us, county managers, the same ones who oversaw escalating costs for MIA and the Performing Arts Center, figure they can raise $489 million. That leaves a $111 million funding gap.

Hooray! MVB hopes they never find the money.

Why? Because the solution to solving trucks coming into and leaving the port is already there. In fact, it's been there since the port opened in 1964. It's called a "rail line." If Sir Manny and the boys will step aside, you can see the railroad tracks in the picture. That vertical structure at the end? The railroad tracks raised so boats may pass-- a position they've been in for years. Why? We think it has something to do with the powerful trucking union but we can't prove it. If the rails are used to move shipping containers to and from the port, why do you need truckers?

MVB is not concerned why the rail line isn't being used anymore but we are suggesting that it be brought back "online" in conjunction with the trucking operations. Our solution is to move thousands of shipping containers by rail in the dead of night when it will be less disruptive to the emerging "new downtown".

The irony here-- and there is always irony and silliness when you talk about Miami-- the rail lines run to an existing off-site container storage facility near the airport-- the same site most of the truckers are driving to to drop off their shipping containers. Why are the truckers driving there? So that the shipping containers can be transferred to...freight trains.

What we find amusing-scary is one of the solutions the county is considering in closing the $111 million funding gap: charging a toll for all cars, trucks, and busses that would use the tunnel and the Port Boulevard-- which is now running pretty smoothly without a toll. We thought the whole idea was to make port operations more efficient. Why then would you consider throwing a roadblock in the form of a toll booth into the picture? Won't vehicles start backing up like they do all over Dade County where there are toll booths? This doesn't make any sense at all. Of course, as always, any fee will be passed along to the public one way or another. Shippers using the port will inevitably pass along those tolls and fees to the consumer in the form of more expensive goods.

If any of this makes you scared or "mad as hell and you're not going to take it anymore" angry, feel free to use the city, county, and state links provided on the right to email your sentiments to your respective public servants. By doing so, you may be able to bring down the county's cost of living if you can convince them that any talk about digging a tunnel is "crazy talk." Right now the county is ranked as one of the most unaffordable places to live in the nation because of the escalating mortgage, rent, and insurance costs. It's so bad, we can't even recruit executives much less a workforce population to teach our kids and work in our hospitals. How will building an unnecessary $1.2 billion truck tunnel make Dade county a more affordable place to live? How will it bring the cost of living down? If anyone is out there and actually reading this and knows the answer, please comment. MVB would like to know.

UpDate (11/23/06): According to Miami Today, Miami-Dade cargo carriers and cruise lines "warned the county last week not to increase port fees to pay for" the tunnel. Shipping executives said "higher port fees would price Miami-Dade out of the market."

UpDate (12/13/08): Christmas comes early with the announcement that the tunnel project succumbs to a well-deserved death when the state and Bouygues Travaux Publics can't agree on terms. Hurray!

UpDate (12/23/2010): Miami Today reports the tracks linking the Port of Miami and the Hialeah freight yards will finally be used by 2013 thanks to a $28 million federal grant.

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