Thursday, April 05, 2007

Another Mojito Moment or Things That Make You Drink in Miami: The $1.2 Billion Port Tunnel

Although the official county estimate for the Port of Miami Tunnel was $1.2 billion, real world bids came in this week that might cause more than a few of us to make up a batch of mojitos. The lowest bid was $1.16 billion and the highest was $2.21 billion. The kicker is how the county will pay its 50% share since, according to the Miami Herald, that issue "remains a little fuzzy." Using County Manager George Burgess' "fuzzy economics"-- which includes a $50 million contribution from the City of Miami, the poorest of the big cities in Dade County-- the county still comes up $300 million short. His solution is to add truck tolls and shipping fees.

MVB thinks that's one bad solution because it will only drive shippers and truckers away from the port-- as some have already promised they would if that happened. Where will they go? Miami's chief cheaper shipping rival: Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. In the end, real world economics instead of "fuzzy economics" will turn what has been described as "the largest bored tunnel in the U.S.," into the world's biggest money pit.

Our solution: Use the existing rail system (currently not used at all) to its maximum capacity in the wee hours of the morning so as not to disrupt downtown traffic with off-loading in the rail yards near MIA (where many, if not most, of the trucks from the port drive to anyway). We believe that solution hasn't really been looked at because of the influence of the powerful trucking unions.

What's Next? A panel of five "experts" will determine which of the three proposals is the best. And then it's up to the county commission to give the final vote. Knowing it comes back to the commissioners is another reason we drink a lot here at MVB. In the past, few commissioners have shown any restraint on spending huge amounts of money on projects like these, i.e., the nearly half-billion-dollar Carnival Center for the Performing Arts (which will probably never show a profit) and MIA's $6.2 billion-and-rising costs. Even county mayor Carlos Alverez, whom we backed in his strong mayor bid, is for this project which just goes to show, even MVB can make mistakes.

Heads Up to Christopher Mazzella, the county's Inspector General, who has said "fraud and ineptitude" cost the county $344 million a year: Considering the potential amount of public money that will be spent on this project, pehaps you may want to get your Public Corruption and Investigations Bureau to keep an eye on the five experts and the commissioners in advance to make sure their opinions aren't tainted in any way from outside influences instead of after-the-fact when it gets convoluted and very expensive.

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!

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