MIAMI -- The first regular vehicle -- a bus carrying dignitaries to a speech by Gov. Rick Scott -- traversed the new PortMiami Tunnel on Monday, when the governor officially dedicated the new $1-billion facility.
Prior to the bus only work vehicles were allowed inside the tunnel, which will not open to normal traffic for several more days while workers perform final tests.
The dedication capped three decades of planning and construction for the tunnel that provides the first direct link for cargo trucks from area expressways to the port. Once the tunnel opens to traffic, trucks will be able to enter the under-the-bay facility in the median of the MacArthur Causeway and emerge at the port near a point between the cargo harbor and the cruise ship terminals. Today, trucks heading to the port must meander through downtown Miami streets to reach the port.
Completion of the tunnel also marks another significant milestone in the overall upgrade of PortMiami, where the harbor is being dredged in advance of the Panama Canal expansion so giant containerships can traverse it. Those ships are expected to bring more cargo to PortMiami.
And government leaders who helped dedicate the tunnel Monday, from Gov. Scott to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, stressed the tunnel and port renovation will mean more jobs for Floridians.
"I'm proud that the port will now be able to handle vessels that will pass through the expanded Panama Canal, which means we've paved the way for 33,000 new jobs," Scott said.
Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Secretary
of Transportation, told the crowd the tunnel is "good for America," but that similar projects in the future will not be built if Congress does not act to supply more money to the Highway Trust Fund, which is running out of cash.
Dedication activities began at 9 a.m. when the bus carrying VIPs invited to the ceremony drove through the tunnel from the tunnel entrance at the MacArthur Causeway median.
"Nice," exclaimed Andria Muñiz, a PortMiami spokeswoman, as the bus entered the brightly lit tunnel. "Very cool. What an amazing opportunity to see first-hand such a project of this magnitude."
As the vehicle, operated by driver Eduardo Basulto, emerged at the portside exit, those aboard the bus exploded in cheers.
"To me it's like giving birth after 33 years of labor," said another passenger on the bus, José Abreu, a former Florida Department of Transportation Secretary who was one of the early tunnel designers.
Ananth Prasad, the current Florida Secretary of Transportation, and also a bus passenger, said he was glad his agency played a key role in the project.
"My team is delivering the project within budget and on time," said Prasad.
Most of the speakers praised Maurice Ferre, the former mayor of Miami who in the early 1980s was the first to propose a tunnel to the port.
"Miami takes 30 years sometimes to do things," Ferre said, "but eventually the right thing is done."