"This is a really sexy project compared with what we usually do," said Gus Pagos from the Florida Department of Transportation. For sure, the almost $1 billion dollar Port of Miami Tunnel Project is probably lots more exciting compared to building Miami's 836/826 interchange.
The tunnel project has been on the drawing boards for 30 years and, as recently as last year, was declared dead by state DOT officials. But Miami Dade Mayor and Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff battled, cajoled, bargained, and got it on. It was Alvarez who carried the big stick and at the end of the day and muscled the project back on to the front burner.
The tunnel will route port traffic from the 836 on to the MacArthur Causeway, onto Watson Island, then 125 feet under Government Cut, then up on to Dodge Island and the Port of Miami.
The project is supposed to make the port more efficient, speed containers in and out of the port, and take the 18 wheelers out of Downtown Miami where currently they are forced to use surface streets to reach the port entrance.
Commuters heading out to the Beach on the MacArthur Causeway have noticed work has begun to move the eastbound lane further to the south in order to widen the median area to accommodate the massive tunnel-boring machine, which will dig two tunnels to and from the Port of Miami. Completion date is scheduled in 2014.
Questioned about the wisdom of spending so much money on a public project during these tough economic times, Mayor Alvarez said, "it is not the time to shut the doors and stop investing in the community." Tunnel boosters say the expanded Port could generate as many as 30,000 jobs.
And there is one more big dig in the Port's future. Funding is being finalized for dredging the south side of the Port of Miami. The water needs to be 50-feet deep to accommodate the new super cargo ships that can navigate the expanded Panama Canal.