Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of six profiles of winners of NCPPP’s 2015 National Public-Private Partnership Awards, which recognize organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the concept and implementation of P3s across the country. The winners were honored during P3 Connect 2015 in Boston.
The PortMiami Tunnel project is an underground operation but that’s no reason to keep it on the down low. Its beneficial influence on Miami’s streets makes it difficult to overlook. The project has greatly reduced traffic congestion in downtown Miami and the areas around the city’s busy port and the project’s design and construction were so well executed that President Obama hailed it as an example of the types of P3s the nation needs to upgrade its transportation infrastructure.
NCPPP presented the Infrastructure Project Award to the following partners behind this project: the Florida Department of Transportation, Nossaman, Ernst & Young and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The $1 billion project consists of twin tunnels built under Biscayne Bay that link port facilities on Dodge Island with MacArthur Causeway and Interstate 395 and added capacity on each direction on the causeway. The goal was to divert 16,000 vehicles — 28 percent of them trucks — from downtown Miami streets to the tunnels and reduce travel time. Since the tunnels opened in early August 2014, their performance has significantly exceeded expectations. A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) traffic study commissioned shortly after the tunnels opened showed that weekly average volume for overall traffic entering or exiting the port through downtown streets had dropped by 35 percent and weekly commercial truck traffic was reduced by 77 percent. Vehicle emissions in downtown streets have diminished greatly as well.
The tunnel project was the second availability payment-based concession agreement to be executed in the United States. FDOT negotiated the 35-year agreement with MAT Concessionaire, LLC in 2009, which included a 30-year operations and maintenance period. MAT consists of equity members Meridiam Infrastructure Finance S.A.R.L. and Bouygues Travaux Publics S.A. The lead design-build contractor was Bouygues Civil Works Florida, Inc.
MAT financed the project with $80 million in equity, $342 million in loans from a group of 10 banks and $341 million in long-term subordinated debt provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. FDOT made $450 million worth of milestone payments to MAT — $100 million during construction and $350 million upon acceptance of the construction work — and is continuing to pay the concessionaire through availability payments. At financial close, the annual availability payment was set at $32.5 million. The payments, which are subject to escalation tied to inflation, can be reduced in response to performance deficiencies, including unauthorized tunnel closures.
MAT has taken numerous measures to prevent tunnel closures. The concessionaire ensures smooth traffic flow through the tunnels by using 91 closed-circuit television monitors and a video wall that feeds real-time images to a staffed control room. Safety measures include 42 emergency phones for drivers, sensors that check the tunnels’ air quality and 44 massive fans that provide ventilation. The tunnels are equipped with flood gates in the event of a major storm and a live messaging system that alerts drivers to hazards and can detect vehicles that are too tall to safely enter the tunnels.
The tunnels also were designed to minimize damage to the area’s environment. Most of the dirt displaced to dig the tunnels was used to cap an old landfill and build an aesthetic berm, as grading for a future park in Miami and as fill in a freeway interchange project. Use of a bored rather than an immersed tube method of tunnel construction reduced adverse environmental and navigation impacts and the builder surveyed all nearby areas that contained coral and sea grass to ensure they remained undisturbed. The concessionaire also was required to adhere to an FDOT-approved environmental protection plan during each phase of the project, including water quality and manatee protection, sediment monitoring, and soil management plans.
The tunnels have greatly reduced traffic congestion and air pollution around the Port of Miami, helped to decrease wear and tear on area roadways and addressed safety concerns, all while preventing the types of environmental damage that accompany major infrastructure projects, thus improving in many ways the area’s quality of life.