Currently viewing the tag: "Port of Miami"

Value Engineering. What does the term mean to you?

Think about it. Let’s decompose the term before seeking out a formal definition. To us, the concept of value engineering when applied to transportation projects, includes the pursuit of cost-effective methods to achieve a desired end result. It includes a suite of tools that would enable project managers to work with engineers and architects to lower the overall cost of the project without sacrificing a particular end goal. In more obscure words, the FDOT defines value engineering as:

“…the systematic application of function-oriented techniques by a multi-disciplined team to analyze and improve the value of a product, facility, system, or service.”

So, if we were to tell you that FDOT was actively seeking to value engineer the structure that will soon replace I-395, how would you feel? Let’s take a look back at the designs presented last year before we dive into our argument on why we shouldn’t cut corners on such a critical piece of infrastructure.

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For the unacquainted, over the past several years FDOT initiated the process to replace the 1.5 mile structure that links SR 836 east of I-95 to the MacArthur Causeway. As the main artery between MIA, the Port of Miami, and South Beach, millions of visitors traverse this scenic stretch annually on the way to a cruise or the beaches. The byproduct of 1960’s urban renewal, I-395 ripped apart neighborhoods and displaced thousands from historic Overtown, today the structure continues to thwart efforts to unite our major public institutions including: The Arsht Center, Art and Science Museums (both currently under construction), and the AA Arena. As such, FDOT’s plans for I-395 will play a critical role in Miami’s ability to reshape the urban core and reunite Downtown, Parkwest, Omni, and Overtown districts.

Side note: Imagine what could become of the corner of N. Miami Avenue and 14th Street if the neighborhood were united with Downtown to the South or the Arsht Center to the east? The Citizens Bank Building (above), built during Miami’s boom years in 1925 could serve as a catalyst for growth in a neighborhood that has largely remained abandoned since urban renewal gutted Overtown. 

In this context, the concept of value engineering contradicts the livable, “sense of place” we’re working to achieve in Downtown. As it currently stands, I-395 and all the other roadways that access our barrier islands are utilitarian structures, serving little purpose other than to move vehicles from one land mass to another.

The challenge with I-395 is that it must satisfy numerous conflicting needs. I-395 isn’t just a bridge (or tunnel, or boulevard). It should serve as an icon; a figurative representation of Miami’s status as the Gateway to the Americas. A new I-395 will, should once and for all, eliminate the physical barrier that has long divided Downtown Miami from the Omni and Performing Arts Districts, encouraging more active uses below while maintaining the flow of traffic above. Not an easy feat. While the DDA and City of Miami recognize the economic value in designing an iconic structure at this site, our experience tells us that FDOT is more likely to think in the terms of dollars and LOS rather than the contextual and neighborhood needs. Simply put, this isn’t an ordinary site where a no-frills structure will suffice.

Cities all across the nation are eliminating derelict highways that for the past 40-50 years have scarred, divided, and polluted neighborhoods. Boston’s big dig for example submerged a 2-mile stretch of I-93 that had cut off the North End and Waterfront neighborhoods from downtown and the rest of the city. The Rose Kennedy Greenway, a 1.5 mile public park now stretches its length. Where the highway tunnel ends, an iconic structure, the Leonard P. Zakim Memorial Bridge takes over, leading traffic over the Charles River to points north. Adjacent to the TD Garden (home of the Celtics & Bruins) the Zakim Bridge is now synonymous with the Boston Skyline. Other notable examples include:

  • San Francisco’s Embarcardero Freeway
  • Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct
  • Hartford’s I-84 Viaduct

While no decision has been made on what final shape I-395’s replacement structure will take, our sources inform us that FDOT is beginning to explore more “cost effective” alternatives. We’ll keep eye on this project as it unfolds and will reach out to the City of Miami, DDA, and FDOT to ensure that Miami receives a replacement structure at this site worthy of its location in the heart of our burgeoning urban core. Moreover, we’ll remind FDOT that their third proposed objective for this project (3. Creating a visually appealing bridge) includes considering the aesthetics of the structure from all perspectives, especially the pedestrians and cyclists we’re trying to lure back into downtown streets.

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Friend of Transit Miami Erik Maza over at the New Times did an article a few days ago about the Port Tunnel that spurred a response from Transit Miami writer Felipe Azhena over the value of the Port Tunnel. While I agree with many of their points and I have been a  critic of this project for many years, I have to chime in here to offer a counterpoint to the idea that the Port Tunnel does not have value.

Ahhh, my love/hate relationship with the Port Tunnel. I’ll start by saying that I support the Port 100%. As one of the major economic generators of the region I think that the economic health of this region is partly derived from the health of the Port. Adding the tunnel will improve access to the Port, and thus add value to the port in the long term- regardless of the ploys used by politicians to make it a reality. The tourists and trade it produces are vital to the economic  health our community. V-I-T-A-L. Considering competition from other regional ports and the expansion of the Panama Canal, it is only natural that we improve mobility to/from the port to improve our competitiveness.

My big problem with the Port Tunnel has less to do with the tunnel itself, and more to do with the fact that the true scope of this project includes I-395. Current thinking is that after the tunnel is complete all the traffic is going to be diverted to I-395, increasing congestion and leading to the construction of a revamped I-395 superhighway (which is probably going to be really nice from aerial photos, but will further hinder redevelopment of an already blighted area). The real Port Tunnel Project is well over $3 billion when considering both the tunnel and subsequent superhighway that will need to be constructed. A better solution would be to tunnel the highway, and coordinate with the proposed East/West metrorail subway.

Proposed East/West Metro Subway Map and Tunnel Section Above. Thanks to Transit Dave for sending Transit Miami these plans from a 1998 MPO brouchure.

Apart from the economic benefits of expanding access to/from the Port, the tunnel should be seen by transit advocates in South Florida as a way of convincing local leaders that a subway tunnel system can work here. Not to mention we are going to have a couple of huge boring machines especially made for our unique bedrock. I don’t think we will can just put them on craigslist. Why not put them to good use?

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Miami today is reporting that work on the $1 billion port tunnel has (unofficially) begun. Environmental work is underway and rigs have been set up on MacArthur Causeway’s median to begin taking soil samples. The project officially breaks ground in May and will take approximately 4 years to complete.

Not only will we have a very questionable new port tunnel, but according to Ms. Alice Bravo district director of transportation for FDOT, a new lane of traffic is planned in each direction of the MacArthur Causeway. Do we really need another lane of traffic in each direction? Wouldn’t it be better to instead bring Baylink into the transportation mix?  This would also be a great opportunity for FDOT to include a protected greenway in each direction on the MacArthur Causeway. Expanding the roadway to accommodate more cars is not the solution; providing more transportation options is the answer.

The City of Miami’s plan to finance their portion of the global agreement hit a roadblock last week when the County Commission deferred the approval of a findings of necessity study which declares Watson Island and Bicentennial park to be “irreversible slum and blight”.  It is rumored that the Commission did not have enough votes to pass the controversial and potentially, illegal plan.

The plan, approved by the Miami City Commission, constitutes three steps:

  1. A Findings of Necessity study declaring Bicentennial Park and Watson Island to be slum and blight. The report, completed in May 2009 by Guillermo Olmedillo, concluded that “the existing conditions of slum and blight, if left unattended, will continue to flourish within the Study Area and beyond into the existing Omni Redevelopment Area and adjacent neighborhoods. These serious and growing conditions of slum and blight constitute an economic and social liability to the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County, and will impose onerous burdens including increased consumption of the municipal and County revenues for public services, such as to public safety, transportation, and infrastructure within the Study Area”
  2. Modify the ONMI Redevelopment plan to expand the boundaries of the Community Redevelopment Area to include Watson Island and Bicentennial Park (CRA monies cannot be legally spent outside the CRA boundaries), specifically mention the Port Tunnel, Streetcar, and Museum Park as desirable projects for “redevelopment”
  3. Issue $100-150 million in bonds against future Tax increment revenues and use the funds to finance the City of Miami’s obligation to contribute $50 million to the Port Tunnel, $20 million for the Miami Streetcar and up to $75 million to the Museum Park project.
The plan has been contested vigorously by stakeholders in the neighborhood, who have filed a 120 page complaint with Miami-Dade County about the City of Miami CRA’s . The complaint alleges that the City and County have manufactured slum and blight in order to redirect funds from their intended purpose of jobs, housing and quality of life improvement.  This may be a violation of State and Federal law, which has clear criteria for the use of HUD and redevelopment funds.  If the City does not maintain their own properties, despite millions of income from rent and special events, they allege, this does not constitute “irreversible slum and blight”. There are also the alleged procedural violations that occurred during the prior adminstation’s rush to get the plan through.  F.S Statute 163 pt III requires public hearings and proper notice about major modifications to a Redevelopment Plan – the last public hearings occurred in 2004 and 2005 and the plan underwent major modifications in May 2009.
The plan was passed by the CRA Board at an emergency meeting on September 29th with less than 24 hour notice given to the community.  A non-noticed meeting of the Miami City Commission to approve the plan was then held at midnight, less than 6 hours after the last modifications to the Redevelopment plan.

The item is scheduled on the County Commission agenda for November 17 as a public hearing.  Hopefully they will take their responsibility to regulate the Redevelopment Agencies seriously. This would involve ensuring that the proper procedures and citizen participation occurs this time around as well as investigating the legal and moral issues surrounding the issues of redirecting money from the poor to fund mega projects for the rich.

  • Sunrail special session update: seems like the powers that be are going to meet in December to discuss funding for SunRail and TriRail. “…every leader in Tallahassee has been told by the federal government: you’re not getting any money until Tri Rail gets a funding source,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons, chairman of the board that oversees Tri-Rail. Good to hear. CSX has also agreed to revisit its liability demands.  (Orlando Sentinel)
  • Check out this cool tribute to architecture and urbanism guru Vincent Scully (one of my former professors from UM). (Hartford Courant)
  • Great editorial from Friday’s Herald about the Port of Miami: “As the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal, the Port of Miami has much at stake. The port serves more than 20 shipping lines that call on more than 100 countries and 250 ports across the world. It contributes $17 billion annually and 176,000 direct and indirect jobs to the local economy.” Duh. Then why aren’t we serving the people who work and travel to the Port with adequate mass transit?
  • Glad someone is paying attention: Katy Sorenson is sponsoring a resolution to establish the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact between Palm Beach, Broward, Monroe, and Dade Counties.  (Miami-Dade)
  • Win for citizen involvement: Bruno Barreiro is sponsoring a resolution to direct the Mayor to develop a web-based application for legally required public notices or ads to appear on the County web portal. (Miami-Dade)

Here we are in a financial crisis that is tearing apart our city services, and the city is still moving forward with plans to spend millions of dollars it doesn’t have on an expensive Port Tunnel it doesn’t need. This is exactly the same type of mismanagement of taxpayer dollars that produced the stadium deal, and that led to the current fiscal crisis. Rather than saving money, every last bit of capital the city has (and even some that it doesn’t have) are going to go into pushing the tunnel. Local cargo and transportation experts will tell you that the Port Tunnel is essential to competing with the Panama Canal expansion when it opens  in 2014, but a recent MPO study championed by Commissioner Joe Martinez shows that the rail alternative would be just as good and could be coupled with a passenger rail line that would finally connect the airport to the   – something that would make the port much more competitive than the Port Tunnel. Inside information at the port reveals that traffic is down (no kidding), but the city presses ahead – squeezing the police, firefighters, and every other union it can find for a few million dollars. I urge the commissioners to rethink this expenditure in light of our current fiscal problems, and the availability of better alternatives.

PS. Don’t let dollar amounts fool you. Original estimates for the port tunnel were in the range of $1.5 -$2 billion, but now officials estimate that the cost will be $600 million. Hmmm…so the expansion of a normal highway (like I-395) will cost $500 million, but a tunnel running under Government Cut will only cost slightly more. Really? Sounds like fuzzy accounting to make the tunnel seem like the cheaper alternative. Why not redo the rail estimates as well to see how much lower they come in. And while you are at it, include in the cost of the port tunnel the price of the I-395 super expansion ($600 million), because the only reason that is moving forward is to accommodate the increase in truck traffic from the tunnel.

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More and more people are talking about upgrading rail access to the port as a low cost ($30 million) alternative to the billion dollar Port Tunnel. Rail traffic would be able to cross Biscayne on the FEC tracks with little impact to traffic by efficiently coordinating traffic lights with freight schedules.  Check out this MPO Study. Kudos to Commissioner Joe Martinez for pushing this alternative to the Port Tunnel. The beauty of this proposal is that it  can be coordinated with the plan to use the FEC tracks for passenger rail. That project is currently in the planning phase, and is about 5 years away.

Now that the Port Tunnel is fading away, lets use that money for the East/West Orange line (connecting FIU-MIA-Orange Bowl-the Port)!

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Two big infrastructure projects are back in the picture as the FDOT has resurrected the Port Tunnel deal while quietly trying to build support for the reconstruction of I-395 as a super elevated highway. The tunnel project, touted as the remedy for removing truck traffic from downtown streets, was all but dead until FDOT Director Stephanie Kopelousos approved new cash backers. Friends of Transit Miami have also alerted us that FDOT District 6 is quietly reaching out to Overtown residents to build support for their prefered alternative of a $580 million super elevated highway, saying it will reconnect the neighborhood that was devastated by the construction of the existing I-395 nearly 60 years ago.

Too bad FDOT. A billion here, half a billion there. Seems like they love to play with monopoly money, all the while playing down the benefits of the most  logical answer: to depress the highway opening up acres of expensive downtown land. The $800 million price tag for removing the highway will be offset by the newly vacant (and taxable) downtown blocks, while nixing the tunnel in favor of using existing rail will save the state (and us taxpayers) over a billion dollars. Check out this great article detailing the I-395 options. I’ll post more on this in the coming days. No public meetings have been set yet, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know. I-395, courtesy of University of Miami SoA, Andrew Georgiadis and Jess Lynn

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Consider the following excerpt from the Herald:

Miami-Dade voters strongly oppose spending tax dollars on a baseball stadium and other projects in a $3 billion public works plan, but would back spending on local schools, a new poll shows.

The survey of 800 Miami-Dade registered voters suggests the public is reluctant to spend local tax dollars for ”luxury items” during an economic slowdown, said Sergio Bendixen, whose Bendixen & Associates conducted the poll.

I’m going to go ahead nip this one in the bud before anyone grabs it and runs with it.  The money (Note: vast majority, not all) earmarked for the Miami Megaplan is allotted for the sole use of the intended individual projects.

If Miami does not utilize the $500 million FDOT is providing for the tunnel project, the funds cannot be diverted to education, healthcare, or any other sector.  FDOT will simply reallocate the funds to another or various transportation projects in other counties within the state.  Our loss.

Now about the stadium.  That funding, 90% of the county’s share according to County Manager George Burgess, is coming from the tourist and convention development taxes.  Tax money, which once again, can only be used for programs that will stimulate more tourism within the Miami-Dade County area.

CRA Money?  Care to take a guess?  Yep.  This money can only be used for the improvement of the redevelopment districts.

Now, before we start crying foul about the Miami Megaplan or any other infrastructure upgrades in these self imposed difficult economic times, perhaps we should stop and consider where this funding is coming from and what we are permitted to do with it in the first place.  I find it rather irresponsible of Bendixen & Associates to perform such a rash survey without considering the complex funding restrictions.

Bendixen noted that the poll didn’t ask voters’ opinions of the projects, just the funding mechanism. ”Voters aren’t saying they don’t like the ideas, they don’t think these projects are good investment for tax money,” he said.

And clearly failed to consider how exactly these funding sources work…

Voters were even more opposed to paying for construction of a new museum park at Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami. The poll found 66 percent of respondents found it a ”bad investment” for the county; while 29 percent considered it a “good investment.”

Guess what folks?  We had the chance to vote on this one already.  We approved the bond deal that enabled its funding.  Besides if we’re in such a dire need to improve our education, why not build these institutions of higher learning?  Every great city has large museums to compliment the classroom components of learning…

I attended today’s county commission meeting to voice my support for many of the projects, particularly the port of Miami Tunnel and the Streetcar. I sat through all 10 hours of testimony and discussion, at times observing our commissioners running around in circles. Hours of discourse could have likely been saved had all the elected members realized from the very beginning that today’s resolution did not guarantee any of these projects but merely paved a path for all of them to return to the commission for approval at a later point in time. The only time sensitive resolution fully moving forward after today’s vote was the Port of Miami Tunnel, already previously approved by the County. Below is a copy of the speech I presented to the commission:
My name is Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal; I am a transportation engineer, urban planning student, and local sustainable planning advocate from transitmiami.com. I am here today to voice my unconditional support for the plan sitting before you; a plan that will revolutionize the city of Miami and will make urban life a real possibility for more county residents.

Miami Streetcar
The Miami streetcar will serve a vital role in the future development of our city. It will serve as an economic catalyst for the entire county by guaranteeing mobility where it is needed most; our downtown core. Contrary to the suburban sprawl most of this commission voted in favor of a few weeks prior, the streetcar will allow the county and city to continue growing in an ecologically and financially sustainable manner for years to come. I cannot begin to quantify the economic benefits our entire community will experience through this measure. Most importantly, the streetcar provides the means with which to construct some truly affordable housing, located within easy reach and facilitating life not governed by the economic constraint of owning a vehicle for personal independence.

Port Tunnel
The benefits the port of Miami tunnel will provide are twofold: providing direct easy access to and from our second largest economic engine and perhaps more importantly, ridding our newly emerging downtown urban center of the traffic, smog, and noise pollution produced by these vehicles daily. The reduction of these nuisances in our city center will foster a hospitable urban environment.

An unprecedented resolution sits before you today aimed at simultaneously solving some of the transit, infrastructure, and societal needs of this community. As is the case with most plans of this size, it isn’t without its share of flaws; however, the economic and intangible benefits these upgrades will produce should be enough to outweigh any of your reservations. I ask that the commission take the necessary steps today to propel Miami into a new, sustainable future.

It’s a great day in the city of Miami; commissioners approved the Port of Miami Tunnel project and began an initial funding stage for the Miami streetcar Project!

Yet the port tunnel survived, in part, because it was included as one piece in a far-reaching revival plan pitched by Mayor Manny Diaz. Two other development projects that also had encountered opposition secured funding as pieces of the larger, historic whole: Paying off a $2.5 million yearly debt for Jungle Island and helping underwrite a $200 million Miami streetcar.

To be continued…

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City of Miami Commissioners will be voting today on ponying up their paltry $50 million share of a nearly Billion dollar plan to tunnel from Watson Island to the Port of Miami, providing direct highway access to the facility. We’ve discussed (See: Port Part 1, Part 2) how we prefer a rail option to be sought for the port first, however, given the strength of the trucking lobby it’s only natural that plans move ahead for a vehicular tunnel. The tunnel, rail or not, is a vital link to Miami’s second largest revenue generator and a necessary piece of infrastructure to help reform downtown Miami’s streets. The sidewalk cafe, pedestrianized urban environment will be completely impossible to achieve unless we remove the thousands of trucks and buses which currently traverse the downtown streets.
I received an email with a different opinion:

“The tunnel will take noise off the streets but add noise to the water, thus ruining the experience along the bay walk and Bicentennial Park. Imagine the noise of the trucks as they climb the incline as they leave Watson Island and move toward and past Bicentennial Park and the Carnival Center. This elevated noise will travel over water and neighborhoods ore then the street noise now.

At the least, sound walls would have to be studied and installed if the tunnel was to go forward or the bay walk and Bicentennial Park will be a flop as no one will want to experience the noise traveling over the open water.

I would be far better to create a tunnel cap over all of Watson Island instead of having a cover just over the portion of the new truck tunnel as it comes up out of the ground on the east end of Watson Island. That way Watson Island becomes quiet and an elevated park can be created on top of the tunnel way, linking the north and south sides of Watson Island.”

- Steve Hagen

A Sound wall on a bridge? This is the problem with suburban thinking in an urban setting. Steve clearly has never visited an urban park. I cite the serenity offered by Brooklyn Bridge park which is wedged between two high traffic bridges (Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge) leading to New York City:

Alesh Brings us the Port Tunnel Commercial…

Write to the commissioners and tell them you’d like a new, cleaner downtown free from port traffic:

TRegalado@miamigov.com

AGonzalez@ci.miami.fl.us

FCastaneda@ci.miami.fl.us

JSanchez@ci.miami.fl.us

SWright@ci.miami.fl.us

MSpence@ci.miami.fl.us

National:

  • The Houston MTA has voted to use LRT on all of its upcoming 5 rapid transit routes.
  • How do you resolve a budget deficit of $29 Million? You spend $102 Million to build a streetcar of course! This method is being pitched by Cincinnati’s City Manager, who argues that the added benefit the streetcar will bring will more quickly pull the city out of economic recession.
  • Seattle voters will soon be heading to the polls to vote on a massive transportation bill which will simultaneously expand LRT service and widen highways…
Local:
  • Alesh provides a run down of how to use Public Transit. Plenty of good points, particularly: the environment, exercise, reading time, and money. The only thing I’d add to the list is social interaction…
  • Earth to these people…Lowering the parking rates at the Sonesta will CAUSE MORE PROBLEMS… If anything, parking meter rates should increase to discourage people within walking distance of the grove from driving around in search for a parking spot. If you need help on how to get around without a car, see Alesh’s post above…
  • Michael Lewis provides us with some much needed insight on the former fountain in Bayfront Park once dedicated to Claude Pepper…
  • Rail apparently isn’t a viable option to connect to the port… We still disagree

  • Tri-Rail Ridership is up 15% for the first six months of 2007. Making it the third fastest growing transit system in the Nation.
  • MPO suggests running a commuter train from Dadeland North to Metrozoo along the unused CSX tracks (finally!) The plan also calls for two express bus lines to travel down Kendall to 167th avenue and the other along 137th avenue from Kendall to FIU.
  • The FDOT is working hard to salvage the Port of Miami Tunnel plan after the city of Miami commissioners sabotaged it recently by not contributing their measly $50 Million share.
  • A new 45 story tower could soon be rising in the CBD…

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We here at Transit Miami, would like to issue a heartfelt, sincere apology to our dedicated readers for our less than stellar content contribution lately. Each of us is currently wound up in our personal affairs and have naturally failed to allocate enough time to writing comprehensive, detailed articles on the latest transit/development issues. Fortunately for us, the past few weeks have been tame on the news fronts in these areas. Transit Miami readers, things will get better, I can attest to that. Our dedication is still as strong as the day we started this blog and our continued effort will be a testament to that. We have some exciting articles on the way and are working hard to instill the ideals of Transit Miami into the lives of every Miamian…

Some latest worthwhile stories:

  • City of Miami Commissioners foolishly rejected a plan to fund their $50 Million share of the port of Miami tunnel. A plan that would remove thousands of daily trucks, buses, and cars from the congested downtown streets somehow isn’t seen as a valuable enough asset worth of community development money. A word of advice to the commissioner who voted against the plan: try walking along these streets or open a sidewalk café at one of the new high-rises along Biscayne Boulevard and you’ll quickly see what kind of benefit the tunnel will provide the neighborhood…
  • Max Tower on the Way? We certainly hope so…The proposed 31 story tower rising in the media and arts district would provide just that; Media and Arts. The tower would become a hub for local production providing ample recording studio space and other media oriented amenities. It may be too late to save NBC, ABC, or CBS from abandoning the district but, hey who knows maybe we can begin to recentralize ourselves again?
  • Finally! The hideous pink wall along US-1 and the Bay Heights is set to receive a worthy makeover…
  • What’s life like in downtown? The Herald profiles some residents happy about their lifestyles changes…
  • Samuel Poole III shares his thoughts on Miami 21 and you know what? He’s right on the money…

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