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Officials Deny Reserve Funds For Port Of Miami Tunnel Builders

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(Photo Credit: CBS4) Port of Miami

(Photo Credit: CBS4) Port of Miami

MIAMI (CBS4)- The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on Tuesday night denied a request by the multinational firm building the Port of Miami tunnel for an additional $67.5 million from a project reserve fund.

According to the company, the requested funds were needed to prepare the soil beneath Biscayne Bay before boring of the underground roadway begins in October.

The disclosure of the denial by FDOT was a blow to Miami Access Tunnel (MAT), the concessionaire in charge of the project, which was asking for the money to cover extra work related to reinforcing the porous limestone subsoil with grout so the boring process is more stable.

The request for the money alarmed the new Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Gimenez, and county commissioners when the issue first emerged at the commission meeting on July 7, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald.

This is the second time in recent months that FDOT has denied requests from MAT for money from the $150 million reserve fund. The prior request for $27 million to modify the tunnel boring machine was denied earlier.

MAT was seeking the money, $67.5 million for the subsoil grouting project and $27 million for the machine, on the ground that geological conditions that its experts found in the bay are different from what FDOT had previously found. FDOT disagrees with the MAT finding.

“A preliminary review of the notices by FDOT experts indicates that a changed geological condition does not exist and therefore the concessionaire is not entitled to accessing the reserve,” said FDOT Miami spokesman Brian Rick. “FDOT has denied the requests and will continue to follow the steps required by the contract.”

According to officials familiar with the project, the $45 million tunnel boring machine operates better when it cuts through solid rock. But MAT experts say they have found the limestone under Biscayne Bay to be extremely porous, and gaps in the rock need to be filled with grout.

This is why a MAT contractor needs the $67.5 million, to carry out extensive grouting in the subsoil of the bay to fill in the sandy gaps in the rock. FDOT officials have indicated that while they agree some grouting is needed, the job should not be as extensive as MAT claims, according to the Herald.

MAT says that despite the FDOT denial, it will cover the extra costs and then seek reimbursement through a dispute resolution panel or the courts.

“We will continue to ensure that we are fully prepared to construct and complete the signature project,” said Louis Brais, project executive for Bouygues Civil Works of Florida, which is involved in the project.

The tunnel project is expected to be completed by May 2014.

It is expected to draw trucks away from downtown Miami by giving them direct access to the port from area expressways. Currently, trucks tie up traffic when they meander through busy streets downtown to reach the port after they exit the expressways.

The tunnel is one of three transportation improvements designed to expand the port’s ability to attract world trade after the Panama Canal widening is finished in 2014. The others are a rail line to carry cargo containers and dredging of the port’s cargo zone to accommodate giant container ships.

The tunnel project has been in the works since the 1980s as a concept and was almost killed by FDOT before the concessionaire and the state transportation department signed an agreement in 2009.

The tunnel boring machine then was built over the last year in Germany and was transported to Miami in pieces by ship. It is now being assembled in the median of the MacArthur Causeway at Watson Island across from the Jungle Island theme park. Boring of the tunnel is expected to take one year.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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