Costs, changes stalled terminal at MIA

Sep. 6--Subcontractors had to halt work because doors were locked and no one had the key. A prime contractor had no clue how much nearly a dozen jobs cost -- and "no clear direction" on how to proceed on masonry wall, elevator shaft and electrical...


Sep. 6--Subcontractors had to halt work because doors were locked and no one had the key.

A prime contractor had no clue how much nearly a dozen jobs cost -- and "no clear direction" on how to proceed on masonry wall, elevator shaft and electrical work.

The construction manager bypassed a qualified low bidder for a paving contract in favor of a business partner whose budget later ballooned by millions.

As Miami International Airport unveiled its gleaming new 1.7 million-square-foot South Terminal last week, passengers could savor the roomier concourses and fresh sheen of the floors.

What wasn't so visible: the discord, delays and errors that helped add hundreds of millions in cost and 2 1/2 years to the project's timetable. Planned for a budget of $799 million six years ago, the terminal's tab is now $1.1 billion.

A Miami Herald review of 100,000 pages of correspondence sheds light on how a project conceived on a "fast track" became mired in change orders, angry subcontractors and escalating costs.

In just the 15 months since May 2006, Miami-Dade County issued nearly 1,500 bulletins, field directives and work orders directing the construction manager to do work that wasn't part of the original contract. Even the choice of color for a toilet partition hit snags.

Airport officials and the key contractors responded to Miami Herald inquiries with written statements saying construction was hampered by delays that often come with complex construction projects, but that the result will benefit travelers.

FOR A DECADE

The South Terminal's buildup dates back a decade, to 1997, when the first batch of architectural and engineering contracts for the project were awarded. County oversight was largely provided by Dade Aviation Consultants, which has had a lucrative tenure as the Aviation Department's consultant since 1992.

The initial contract for the firm hired in 2001 to manage construction -- Parsons Odebrecht Joint Venture, or POJV -- was worth $659 million, with a "substantial completion" date of January 2005. The first flight came 31 months later. POJV's contract is now worth $841 million.

POJV told The Miami Herald that part of the reason for so many changes to the original contract stemmed from the county's decision to "fast-track" the South Terminal -- that is, to build portions of it even as other portions were still being designed.

The firm said the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- which mandated "dramatic changes" in the security system and design -- "led to the county's decision" to take the fast-track approach.

But an MIA spokesman told The Miami Herald that the decision for fast-tracking was actually made months before 9/11 by the county and a committee of airport, county and industry officials during negotiations with POJV, whose contract was formalized in August 2001, the month before the attacks.

Asked about the discrepancy, POJV issued a revised statement deleting the "fast track" reference. Nonetheless, POJV said the new 9/11 demands and the county's quest to speed along construction created a "most difficult environment."

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Even before construction officially began in November 2002, questions surfaced about conflicts of interest and costs involving a $49 million contract for utility and paving work for the terminal's two concourses.

Four firms bid, yet a selection committee of three POJV officials bypassed the low bidder in favor of a firm that bid $4 million higher -- Gilbert Southern Corp.

At the time, one of POJV's partners -- Parsons Corp. -- was a joint-venture partner with Gilbert Southern's parent firm, Peter Kiewit & Sons, in a highway project in Colorado, records show.

The low bidder said the arrangement posed conflict-of-interest questions. In memos, MIA and DAC disapproved of bypassing the low bidder.

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend