Experts to Give Second Opinion on Miami's Expanson Plans

The four consultants are expected to help the airport avoid any additional cost overruns in the future.


Jan. 16--Four experts will review Miami International Airport's building plans next week, in an analysis prompted by construction cost overruns of $1 billion and strongly recommended by a consultant involved in issuing bonds to pay for the project.

MIA's capital improvement program is now expected to cost $6.2 billion, mainly due to escalating costs for materials and labor at the North Terminal, where the tab has risen to $2.66 billion, up from $1.94 billion.

The two-day "peer review workshop," Jan. 24-25, will bring in professionals in the fields of airport management, architecture, engineering and planning. While none currently have ties to MIA, one of the panelists worked at MIA for decades, and two others helped with master plans in the 1970s while working for engineering firms. All say they consider themselves independent.

The airport will pay each of the participants about $3,000 for the two-day session, plus expenses, said Deputy Aviation Director John Cosper.

"The objective is to get feedback on the approach we're taking to complete the project," Cosper said. "It's really for them to see how the project is broken up, how we're going to do it."

The panelists plan to take a critical look. But rather than focusing on how to cut existing costs, they are expected to help the airport avoid any additional cost overruns in the future.

"I will call it as it is," said Paul B. Gaines, 70, a consultant who was formerly director of aviation for the city of Houston. "I've got nothing to lose and nothing to gain. I don't have an oar in this one."

The workshop and a subsequent report are necessary before Miami-Dade Aviation Director Jose Abreu asks the County Commission to approve the added $1 billion in February, Abreu said.

Mike Brown, president of Cincinnati-based John F. Brown Co., which is writing the bond feasibility study, sent Abreu an e-mail "strongly recommending" the review after learning of the new price tag during a meeting with him in November.

"As costs and risks have increased . . . the [Aviation] Department's financial condition has deteriorated," Brown wrote. "Moreover, we believe that the materiality of the cost overruns and missed financial targets will raise credibility and disclosure issues that need to be addressed."

Cosper said he hopes to bring the participants back in about six months.

"It's a good process, a good way to get feedback, a good check on what we are doing."

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