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Port Miami Tunnel: Aesthetics & Sustainability in Infrastructure

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on July 18, 2015 at 12:48 PM

Think infrastructure, and you think roads, bridges, flyovers, tunnels, rail tracks, train stations and bus depots, public amenities and buildings. The very features that define a city, other than its natural and historical heritage, come from its infrastructural framework. Hence, it would naturally follow that this bundle of services called infrastructure that forms a city’s spine also reflects the city’s technological and social advancement, its awareness and sensitivity towards issues of sustainable growth and aesthetic appeal. In sum, a city’s infrastructure ideally lends an identity to it, and is reflective of the citizens’ pride in their environs. A recently completed example of this is the 3,900 ft long and 41 ft diameter PortMiami twin tunnel connecting Watson Island to Dodge Island (Port Miami) through an undersea route reaching 120 ft deep below the water. The design of Entrance and Exit Portals to twin tube tunnels was commissioned to Arquitectonica GEO, the landscape design wing of the multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural Florida firm Arquitectonica. 

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The Tunnel

Conceived in the 1980s as an alternate route to be taken by most of the trucks carrying cargo to and from the port which had to previously pass through Miami downtown consequently congesting it, everything about this project was a risk intrepidly undertaken as a public private partnership drafted in 2009 between the state of Florida, the MAT (Miami Access tunnel) concessionaire and several private implementing agencies. But, as it should be ideally, all aspects of this including the technological prowess on display, the commitment to control time and cost over runs and the beautiful finishing at both ends of the tunnel with exquisitely designed portals by the Florida firm, ArquitectonicaGEO, unambiguously reflect the pride placed by all the stakeholders in their home city, when it was completed in 2014. With the tagline ‘We dig the tunnel...the community can too’ The PortofMiami Tunnel project invited on board the citizens of Miami to support the monumental task they had set out on executing. Moreover, fears that had been expressed regarding time and cost overruns akin to previous such projects had been allayed by promises of delivering on time and within the promised budget.

The twin tunnels, each 4,200 ft long and having a 39 ft inner diameter each, were dug out and constructed under the government cut at Biscayenne bay. They each were fitted with two traffic lanes, curbs, walkways, ventilation fans and additional safety features. The bottom of the tunnels is approximately 120 ft below the surface of water. The tunnel boring machine was longer than a football field at 540 feet (160 m) long, and over 40 feet (12 m) in diameter. It was used to bore two side by side 43 feet (13 m) diameter tunnels, one for each direction, each 3,900 feet (1.1 km) long. The tunnel boring machine itself cost $45 million and was custom built for the Port of Miami Tunnel Project by the German firm Herrenknecht. Both tunnels were ready by May 2013, followed by work on road widening on tthe MacArthur Causeway and other remaining works. The PortMiami tunnel was opened to public on August 3rd 2014, slightly delayed from the promised date of delivery due to minor mechanical fixes required, for which the main contractor  Bouygues was fined $115 thousand for every day that the tunnel was not open, losing millions of dollars. The tunnel’s dedication and subsequent opening to traffic mark the completion of one of the most expensive and elaborate transportation projects in South Florida history.

Trucks carrying hazardous material as well as those which are overheight will be prohibited from using this tunnel, using the technological sensors and triggers with which the tunnels have been equipped to do this. The tunnel entrances have been fitted with floodgates that will drop down to seal the tunnel water tight in the case os a very strong approaching hurricane. Hodgkins, the MAT vice president, said the tunnel is deemed among the safest in the world because it has redundant safety features that prior tunnels did not have, “This tunnel is a culmination of fixing what went wrong in any other tunnel,” he said.

The Portals

The design of Entrance and Exit Portals to twin tube tunnels was commissioned to Arquitectonica GEO, the landscape design wing of the multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural Florida firm Arquitectonica. The simple yet impactful portals are treated to look like Egyptian pyramids with typography in huge font carved in bas relief over stone. The imposing height of the portals, shaped like rectangular wraps through which brightly coloured and lit up panels peep out, creates an aptly monumental impact. The portal designs also stand out in terms of sustainability and eco-sensitivity reflected in the detailing.

Despite the cynicism surrounding the project, the huge risks taken by the city administration and its private counterparts have been vindicated by the substantial use of the tunnel by people of Miami and the symbol of proud progress it stands for, today. This is curiously contrary to the experience in most Indian cities where, barring a few projects, the huge amounts spent never get reflected in terms of quality products that citizens can take ownership and pride in. Even the ones that do us proud, like the Bandra-Worli sea link or the Metro in Mumbai, are long overdue.

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