Completion Date for Miami's $1 Billion Project Pushed Back

Jan. 27 -- Plagued by worker shortages and cost overruns, Miami International Airport's South Terminal will end up with a $1 billion price tag and its opening will be delayed from March until sometime this summer -- at the earliest.

That postponement will filter throughout the airport and touch key aspects of MIA's massive $6.2 billion capital improvement program, because the ramp-up in the North Terminal's construction is contingent on moving carriers into the South Terminal.

"The delays on South Terminal are a result of failure to pursue the work and a real effort to get it completed," said Deputy Aviation Director John Cosper, blaming the contractors. "I don't see a desire to complete the job over there."

Flying on 26 airlines, more than 8 million passengers -- or about one-quarter of MIA's annual traffic -- will use the 1.5-million-square-foot South Terminal. Delta Air Lines and four other domestic airlines will be the first to move in.

But when the facility opens remains a burning question. Delays continue to hamper the terminal, as they have the airport's entire construction program. Speeding up the process is essential, experts found, during this week's two-day peer review of the airport's renovation plans, prompted by $1 billion in overall construction cost overruns.

Previously expected to open last year, the contractor's latest progress schedule shows the South Terminal would not finish construction until August. But it is working on shortening that to early summer, said Rex Brejnik, project director for the South Terminal for the contractor, Parsons-Odebrecht JV, or POJV.

Yet even once construction is finished, it would take two additional months to open the terminal, because dozens more tasks must be done, from checking safety systems to bringing in chairs and garbage cans, said Max Fajardo, assistant aviation director for facilities management, who was recently assigned point person on the South Terminal.

"There are definitely challenges of getting the buildings opened up in the May-June time frame," Fajardo said. "The contractor has a lot of work to do."

Of much concern are delays in the baggage conveyor system, which is crucial to the operation of the terminal, Cosper said.

And as the time frame has grown, so has the terminal's budget. It has jumped from $627.4 million in 1999 to $1.006 billion today, after being significantly altered after the 2001 terrorist attacks. It has risen $80 million in the past year alone, due to change orders.

What makes the delays even more serious is that completion of MIA's $2.6 billion North Terminal, to be used by American Airlines and its partners, currently hinges on the South Terminal's opening. Construction is ongoing in some areas of the North Terminal, slated to open in late 2010 at the earliest. But it will be able to move into higher gear when the South Terminal opens, which will create a domino effect.

The first international carrier to move to the terminal is Air France, which will move from F to H, which will then allow Virgin Atlantic to move to F, Fajardo said.

"Air France off of F is most critical to South Terminal," he said. "My goal is to de-link North Terminal from South Terminal as fast as I can."

The critical problem facing South Terminal is a shortage of construction workers. In September and October POJV had 1,100 workers per day on the job. But Wednesday, only 600 workers were there, POJV's Brejnik said. MIA peer group experts, who toured the construction area that day, noted the lack of manpower.

Brejnik said he expects to bring in up to 200 more workers by the middle of February, with increases starting next week.

"This whole house of cards rests on getting appropriate labor levels in the South Terminal," said Scott Windham, American Airlines' managing director of corporate real estate.

A major hindering block is that subcontractors have complained they aren't getting paid fast enough. They just recently got checks for work done in October, and it has generated an atmosphere of distrust.

Cosper said one of the reasons for the late payments is that contractors and subcontractors are not getting invoices to the county on a timely basis.

Subcontractor Hensel Phelps is still calculating hurricane damage from 2005, for example, because it is having difficulty coming up with the back-up material, Cosper said. It will then have to present it to POJV to give to Miami-Dade County.

"The county is ready to pay it," he said. "The contractors have to get it to us to get it paid."

To expedite the process, the county has set due dates for invoices to be in and is allowing POJV to get paid within 22 days. POJV and Hensel Phelps have also fronted money to their subcontractors.

Brejnik said the contractors are committed.

"We are focused on getting this job done."

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