By Gary Nelson

MIAMI (CBS4) – In a few days, perhaps sometime Monday, a huge drill bit – a round, iron digging device more than four stories high – will pop out of the earth on Watson Island, completing the second leg of the Miami Tunnel, the roundtrip, underground route connecting the mainland to Port Miami.

The massive drill, named “Harriet,” will have completed a total of 13 months of sub-terrain rotations, digging first the eastbound and now the westbound tubes of the billion dollar project. Harriet is named for Harriet Tubman who, in the 1800’s, led slaves to freedom on her “underground railroad.”

Tubman’s industrial namesake is about to complete a mammoth job.

“She’s worked hard. Her teeth have worn down. She’s needs a rest and is about to get it,” Miami Tunnel Vice-President Chris Hodgkins said Friday, as he took a CBS4 News crew on a tour of the almost-completed westbound tunnel. Harriet has only about 80 feet more to drill of the nearly mile-long route.

The tunnel at its lowest point runs 120 feet – the equivalent of twelve stories – beneath the cruise ships docked on Biscayne Bay

The project has put 7,000 people to work so far in good paying jobs. Eighty two percent of the project’s permanent staff was hired locally.

“We are most proud of the partnership we have had with the community,” said Hodgkins. “We have over 400 vendors and subcontractors working for us. Over $300,000,000 has been spent right here with local businesses.”

Combined with a deep dredging project, the tunnel will help create 30,000 permanent jobs by increasing the port’s capacity. In a visit to tour the tunnel in March, President Barack Obama called it a model for public/private projects to improve the country’s infrastructure.

Along with their paychecks, workers on the tunnel have taken home considerable pride.

“To be a part of it, it’s history in the making,” said worker Errol Jones. “It’s a good feeling.”

Craftsmen Friday were installing fire resistant linings on the walls of the massive cylinder. It is constructed of steel-reinforced arches, each weighing eleven tons.

The tunnel will feature a high tech fire suppression system in the event a car fire or other blaze should erupt. The system will be capable of extinguishing fires almost instantly, Hodgkins said. A massive ventilation system would quickly expel any toxic gasses.

In the event of a fire or other incident that blocks traffic, escape will be quick and convenient.

“Every four hundred and fifty feet we have an emergency exit,” Hodgkins said.

When Harriet breaks through westbound in a few days, there will be light at the end of the tunnel project. People and freight will be driving to and from Port Miami, underground, within a year.


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