Five years after a Metrorail sound-buffering barrier failed and caused systemwide delays, Miami-Dade commissioners last week agreed unanimously to contract changes that will not see the system’s sound buffers fully replaced for almost two more years.
The changes will raise the cost of the contracts more than $17.7 million to $83.4 million as the county orders replacement of all acoustical barriers on the line. The original contracts ordered replacement of only two-thirds – those in the worst condition.
Barriers being replaced are the originals on a rail line that opened in 1984. They have long passed their useful life. Engineering consultant Atkins advised the county in 2012 to remove them before they fell.
Issues did surface. In July 2018 a cracked acoustical barrier leaned toward the Metrorail guideway and a train hit it, damaging the train and delaying Metrorail service. April 2019 saw almost identical damage. The county took down those barriers, and two months later ordered removal of the remaining sound barriers.
But replacements were slow, as the county let the first of two replacement contracts in October 2020 for residential areas and near hospitals along the line and the second in March 2021 for commercial areas. Both went to Halley Engineering Contractors Inc., for a total of $65.7 million.
Before the first of those contracts was approved, Commissioner Eileen Higgins complained that commission orders to “make sure that this procurement was accelerated” were not followed. “Obviously, this is a terrible procurement,” she said then. “I’m not happy about it. Transit is supposed to make everybody’s life better. The people who ride it aren’t stuck in a car, and the people who live by it should not be kept up at night” as trains rumble past.
The new barriers will replace rusting metal-and-concrete barriers and are rated for 100-year lifespans, Josenrique Cueto, deputy director and chief project delivery officer of the county transportation department, told the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust last month. The trust safeguards use of the half-percent transportation tax that will fund the barriers’ replacement.
Replacement work, Mr. Cueto told the trust, is part of the reason Metrorail “is topsy-turvy.”
The reasons the contract is being extended include replacing the third of the barriers that had been planned to remain. “The new barriers are a different material, made of composite and steel, which is more aesthetically pleasing to residents and more resilient against extreme weather such as hurricanes,” Jimmy Morales, county chief operations officer, wrote in a memo. The old barriers are incongruous with the new ones and have a shorter lifespan, he wrote.
But other factors raised cost and slowed delivery. The costs, Mr. Morales wrote, rose with unspecified “changing market conditions” and simultaneous projects along Metrorail’s guideway “such as construction of the new Courthouse” during the same hours as the barrier work.
Halley told the county that if it didn’t approve the contracts’ changes this month it wouldn’t hold the prices, causing a hurry-up as the approvals rolled through government to last week’s vote.
That rush didn’t sit well at the transportation trust, where member Robert Ruano voted against the contracts because the trust got details just days before the vote, which he called a bad message. He said his vote was sending a message in return.