The Port of Miami Wednesday said it has signed a construction agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will allow its big harbor dredging project to go out for bid.
The project to deepen the main channel from 45 to 50 feet at low tide is estimated to cost $150 million. The state of Florida and Miami-Dade County are footing the bill in the absence of any federal funding to date.
The port authority is expected to issue a contract in January with construction starting shortly thereafter. The dredging will take two years and be finished in time for the opening of the expanded locks in the Panama Canal, which will enable much larger container vessels from Asia to service East Coast ports.
Environmentalists and a nearby community dropped legal objections to the "Deep Dredge" earlier this year after the Port of Miami agreed to contribute money for environmental programs aimed at protecting and restoring Biscayne Bay.
Miami city officials say their head start on dredging gives the port an advantage over other ports in the Southeast, such as Savannah, Jacksonville, Charleston and Port Everglades, that have yet to receive federal clearance to deepen their navigation channels. President Obama this summer ordered that feasibility studies for Savannah, Jacksonville and Charleston, along with a project to raise the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey to accommodate big ships, be expedited.
Miami hopes to attract more ocean carriers and cargo with investments such as the deepening, new on-dock rail service and a new tunnel connecting the man-made island where the port is located with the interstate highway system outside the congested downtown area. - Eric Kulisch