Port of Miami Tunnel unlikely to see federal stimulus money

The Florida Department of Transportation has included the $1bn tunnel in its statewide budget for transportation projects but left it off its list of ‘shovel-ready’ projects for stimulus funding. Local officials in Miami-Dade county included the project on their list of ‘shovel-ready’ projects, but will not advance funding toward the project as long as it sits on FDOT’s budget.

Officials in Florida’s Miami-Dade County included the stalled Port of Miami Tunnel project on their list of “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects eligible for funds from the federal stimulus package, but the $1 billion project is unlikely to see any money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The project is being sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which has included it on its statewide budget for transportation projects, but left it off its priority list of “shovel-ready” projects for federal stimulus funding.

“Unless FDOT places [the tunnel] on their list, which I don’t think they will, the tunnel will not get money,” said Zainab Salim, clerk for the Metropolitan Planning Organisation (MPO) in Miami-Dade County.

A spokesperson for FDOT said the priority list is a “living document” and may be adjusted as the Secretary of Transportation examines procurement options for the tunnel.

The county’s MPO had included the tunnel on its list of surface transportation projects for federal funding but decided not to seek federal funding for it as long as it sits on FDOT’s budget for transportation projects. FDOT had originally agreed to contribute half the capital cost of the tunnel – $432.5 million – from its strategic intermodal system funds.

The county has $56.2 million in federal stimulus funds that it decided to allocate based on population at an emergency meeting on Friday. An additional $126 million from the Department of Transportation’s $1.5 billion discretionary fund for projects is being allocated to FDOT’s 6th district, which includes Miami.

“We were informed by FDOT that it is still funding the project and that the issue with the project is not a funding issue but a procurement issue,” Salim said. She added that the MPO will put its share of stimuls dollars toward projects that are currently unfunded.

In December, FDOT decided not to close on the proposed tunnel linking the city of Miami with the Port of Miami after Babcock & Brown sought to switch financial sponsors for its interest. It sought to substitute its 90 percent equity position in the project with financing from Crédit Agricole’s Meridiam Infrastructure fund. It is unclear whether the state responded to Babcock's proposal, but since then uncertainty has surrounded the project's financing and delivery.

The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law last week by President Obama allocates approximately $64 billion for various types of infrastructure spending that will flow down to states according to funding formulas and population metrics.

This includes a $1.5 billion discretionary fund that the act created for the Department of Transportation to allocate as block grants toward surface transportation projects, $27.5 billion of funding allocated to the Federal Highway Administration for highway and bridge repair and $7 billion of Federal Transit Administration funding.

Federal agencies will begin reporting their use of stimulus funds on 3 March, according to Recovery.gov, a government website created by the US government to track how the stimulus money is being spent.