MIAMI (CBSMiami) – After decades of planning and four years of construction, there was a dedication ceremony Monday morning for the PortMiami Tunnel.
The tunnel project consisted of three components: twin tunnels under Government Cut, connections to PortMiami’s roadway system and widening of the MacArthur Causeway Bridge widening, realignment of eastbound State Road A1A/MacArthur Causeway lanes and reconstruction of Parrot Jungle Trail frontage road.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s finally done and here we are,” said Hunter Weston who worked on the tunnel project.
“Very emotional. We’ve been doing this for the past 55 months and it’s been a great experience,” said Elvira Mejia, another tunnel project worker.
Once opened the tunnel will improve access to and from the port, serving as a dedicated roadway linking the port with the MacArthur Causeway and I-395. Approximately 16,000 cars and trucks a day will have direct access to the port, without having to jam the streets of downtown Miami as they do now.
“Hopefully the traffic will be better, quality of life will be better for residents and visitors, and now we have another debate about whether or not a stadium will bring more traffic, so the port will be part of that conversation and the tunnel too,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
It took thousands of workers like Weston and Mejia, along with a 3,000 ton drill named Harriett, to build the mile-long, four lane, twin tube.
The one billion dollar tunnel project was boon to the local economy. Business was directed to 430 local companies, jobs for 7,500 people – more than 80% of them local – and $350 million put in local pockets.
Gimenez said the tunnel project is an example of how a public private partnership should work.
“When the government tries to do a project it takes a lot of money and time, and this company has done it on budget and on time,” said Gimenez.
Governor Rick Scott, a big supporter of the tunnel project, stopped by the CBS4 This Morning show with Walter Makaula and Rhiannon Ally to talk about what the opening means to him.
“It’s a big day. We’re opening up the tunnel. It’s going to be a lot of jobs, it’s the most important thing we can do. This is something that Jeb Bush pushed to have a big priority and Charlie Crist didn’t so it slowed down and we lost some jobs. But we are back on track and we are working on the dredge. Thirty three thousand jobs, think about that, 33,000 jobs for families,” said Scott.
Scott said this tunnel is a lot more than just a new way to get to the port. It combined with a dredging project to deepen the channel and port to allow for larger freighters will be a boon to our economy.
“It’s going to put us on the map along with the dredge. The dredge to 50 feet, it will be the only port south of Virginia. The most important thing is it will create more jobs. We’ll have more trade coming in to Miami and it’s going to help families,” said Scott. “I grew up in a family that struggled for work. So the most important thing we can do is to make sure everybody gets a job. So this is going to have a $34 billion dollar annual economic impact in our state, a lot jobs for our families. I care about my kids, my grand kids, I want everybody to be able to get a job.”
Hurricane Sandy in 2012 flooded and closed all but one of the tunnels leading to New York’s Manhattan Island.
That won’t happen with the PortMiami Tunnel. It is equipped with fifty ton metal gates that come down and shut to it water tight. Makaula brought up the recent National Climate which named Miami as a city prone to damage by flood waters due to climate change.
Scott said climate change is a concern and his administration has been addressing it.
“In the last three years, our Division of Emergency Management has invested $130 million around our coastline to deal with flooding. I’m not a scientist but what we need to do is invest in our environment, make sure we take care where we have a risk of floods, that’s why we put significant dollars into the Everglades, significant dollars into the environment, so we can deal with all these issues,” said Scott.
Waterproof doors are not the tunnel’s only safety feature.
Nearly a hundred cameras will watch over every inch of the tunnel and be monitored 24-hours a day, seven days a week from a master control room.
The tunnel is also lined with infra-red sensors that can detect a wide variety of potential problems and sound alarms alerting tunnel operators. If a truck approaches, sensors will detect if it is over the height limit. If it is, it will not be allowed to enter.
Fresh air will not be a concern. The tunnel is equipped with 44 jet fans – yes, jet fans – that will keep it cool and prevent any accumulation of toxic fumes or gasses.
In the event a fire should break out, a state of the art suppression system will immediately deploy.
In the unlikely event an evacuation is necessary, escape routes are everywhere.
The towering concrete portals to the East and West ends of the tunnel are carved with various conjugations of the latin word navigas – to navigate – and they hold hardware that makes the tunnel hurricane proof.
At least 75 full-time employees will stay on to maintain and operate the tunnel.
PortMiami is among America’s busiest ports and recognized across the globe with the dual distinction of being the Cruise Capital of the World and the Cargo Gateway of the Americas. PortMiami contributes more than $27 billion annually to the South Florida economy.