The PortMiami Tunnel has finally opened. While the official dedication by Florida Governor Rick Scott occurred in mid-May, minor repairs and final safety checks kept the tunnel from being fully functional until early August. The four-lane tunnel runs under Biscayne Bay and connects directly to I-95 and state highway 836. This allows cargo trucks to reach the port without tying up downtown Miami surface streets. The immediate impact is an estimated 16,000 vehicles that travel to the port daily will have a direct route from highway to the port. This enables trucks and cargo to move in and out of the PortMiami with greater speed and efficiency while reducing traffic in downtown Miami.

The tunnel is part of a $2 billion dollar capital improvement effort that helps position South Florida as a hub for international transportation and logistics. The tunnel offers immediate relief to downtown Miami however the real payoff to expansion will begin sometime in 2015.

The Panama Canal is undergoing an expansion of its own to accommodate larger cargo ships. Currently, the Panama Canal is able to handle ships sized up to 5,000 TEUs (the term TEU refers to ‘twenty-foot equivalent units’, or a length of 20 feet). After expansion, the Panama Canal will be able to handle ships up to 12,000 TEUs. This expansion is scheduled for completion in 2015. While the Panama Canal is expanding, the PortMiami is deepening its existing channel to allow these larger cargo ships to enter. These ships, referred to as post-Panamax ships, can be handled only where a port can accommodate the ship size. Once completed, PortMiami will be the only port south of Norfolk, Virginia with the ability to accommodate post-Panamax ships

Along with the ability to handle post-Panamex ships, a benefit for Miami is its proximity to the Canal Zone. Currently, large cargo ships originating in Asia with a US destination offload their cargo on the US West Coast. Trucking and rail carriers move cargo from West Coast ports to the rest of the country. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, ships can travel from Asia ports to the East Coast and offload cargo directly into East Coast ports. Cargo traffic from Asia should increase and PortMiami should directly benefit. Bill Johnson, PortMiami Director, believes that by 2025, PortMiami could triple the volume it currently handles.

From an economic standpoint, PortMiami contributes about $28 billion per year to the South Florida economy. Directly and indirectly within the State of Florida, PortMiami supports 207,000 jobs; it is estimated that the PortMiami will create 33,000 new jobs. Services such as customs brokers, logistics providers and freight forwarders will be direct beneficiaries of the projected volume increase.

Port cities that lie between Miami and Norfolk – Savannah, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida – are looking to be ready for Post-Panamex ships however Miami is well on its way to completion. At stake is the economic benefit that comes with handling these large cargo ships.

Miami’s tunnel completion is the first step in a capital improvement plan that includes the deepening of the PortMiami’s channels as well as a partnership with the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) to connect the shipping docks to railway lines. FEC’s rail capabilities will enable cargo originating in the PortMiami to reach 70 percent of the American population in a matter of days, according to Mr. Johnson.

That the tunnel has addressed earlier issues and opened is a good sign for Miami as part of the long term growth and positioning as a global transportation hub. The tunnel will be key for moving cargo rapidly from Miami’s port onto the road but this is the first step in establishing Miami as a global transportation hub.