BRADENTON, Fla. - Nearly a year after opening, the $1 billion PortMiami tunnel has won another award for another accomplishment: achieving what it was built to do.
The project, Florida's second public-private partnership based on an availability payment scheme, involved boring underwater tunnels from the port to mainland highways to divert traffic away from busy downtown Miami, which had been the only way to reach the port.
Since the tunnels opened on Aug. 3, 2014, "their performance has significantly exceeded expectations," according to a July 23 release from the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
Based on the success of the project, the NCPPP gave its 2015 Infrastructure Project Award to the Florida Department of Transportation, and the state's team on the project, the law firm Nossaman LLP, Ernst & Young, and Parsons Brinckerhoff.
The goal of the project was to divert 16,000 vehicles — 28% of them trucks — from downtown Miami streets to the tunnels, the organization said.
An FDOT traffic study after the tunnels opened showed that weekly average volume for traffic entering or exiting the port through downtown streets had dropped by 35%, and weekly commercial truck traffic was reduced by 77%.
"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," the NCPPP said.
In 2009, FDOT negotiated the 35-year agreement with MAT Concessionaire LLC to build the project with equity members Meridiam Infrastructure Finance SARL and Bouygues Travaux Publics SA.
The project was financed with $80 million in equity, $342 million in loans from 10 banks, and $341 million in long-term subordinated debt from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.
FDOT made $450 million of milestone payments to MAT — $100 million during construction and $350 million on acceptance of the construction work — and continues to pay for operation and maintenance.
No tolls are charged to use the tunnels.
Earlier this year, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association awarded FDOT and Nossaman with a Globe Award for the tunnel project's minimal impact on the environment. The organization also recognized it as the 2007 Project of the Year.
Other awards include the 2009 North American P3 Deal of the Year by Project Finance Magazine and the 2010 North American infrastructure deal of the year, the Global PPP transaction of the year, and the North American PPP transaction of the year by Infrastructure Investor. It also received The Bond Buyer's Nontraditional Financing award in 2010.