Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Study

The purpose of this study is to assess the effects of potential navigation improvements to Miami Harbor. Current alternatives under consideration in addition to the no action plan include widening and/or deepening specific areas within Miami’s federally authorized channels. Issues that are anticipated include concern for hardbottom/reef communities, turbidity and sedimentation associated with dredging operations, seagrass, threatened and endangered species, and cultural, commercial and recreational resources.

March 2020 Status Update

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, advises the public and all interested parties that it continues to work in close collaboration with the Port of Miami and associated agencies, stakeholders, and partners to deliver a draft report of the Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Study for public review and comment. Economic and engineering analyses are continuing despite disruptions arising from the present Coronavirus pandemic. The release of the draft report will be subject to the team's ability to conclude the ongoing coordination and analyses. The District is evaluating the overall schedule and will provide an update soon. 

Please see the information below for a review of the study’s historical background and current status. In addition, recently posted Frequently Asked Questions.

Additional questions may be sent by email at any time to

Frequently Asked Questions


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Navigation was the Corps of Engineers’ earliest Civil Works mission, dating to Federal laws in 1824 authorizing and funding the Corps to improve safety on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and several ports. The Corps provides safe, reliable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable waterborne transportation systems (channels, harbors, and waterways) for movement of commerce, national security needs, and recreation.

Congress charged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with the responsibility for improving harbors under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. That responsibility remains with the Corps of Engineers. As part of this mission, we must ensure that commerce has safe and adequate access to ports throughout the USA.

Congress provides funding to the Corps to study potential harbor improvements around the country. These studies provide Congress with information to decide which projects are justified and would best benefit the nation.

Every day thousands of vessels move people, animals, and products across the country via the nation's rivers and harbors. This water traffic is a vital component of the nation's economy. One of the Corps’ primary missions is to ensure that this traffic can move safely, reliably, and efficiently and with minimal impact on the environment. 

The Corps’ primary navigation responsibilities include planning and constructing new navigation channels, locks, dams, and dredging to maintain channel depths at U.S. harbors and on inland waterways. It’s important to note that only a few of them are naturally deep. In most of them, channels must first be excavated to a congressionally mandated depth and then dredged periodically, so they will remain clear and safe for navigation. Without dredging, many waterways, ports, and harbors would become impassable to commercial and recreational vessels. 

The Corps operates and maintains 25,000 miles of navigable channels and 196 commercial lock/dam sites and is responsible for ports/waterways in 41 states. In partnership with local port authorities, Corps personnel oversee dredging and construction projects at hundreds of ports and harbors at an average annual cost of nearly $1.5 billion. The Corps dredges nearly 300 million cubic yards of material each year to keep the nation's waterways navigable. Much of this dredged material is reused for environmental restoration projects including the creation of wetlands.

Jacksonville District (SAJ) is responsible for 17 deep draft harbors and 20 shallow draft harbors in Florida and the Caribbean, as well as approximately 900 miles of navigable inland waterways. Seven of the ports are in the top 100 ports in the United States based on annual tonnage.

Per Section 2211 of WRDA 1986, as amended by Section 2102(b) of WRRDA 2014 and Section 1111 of WRDA 2016, the cost share for navigation projects is 75% (Federal)/25% (Non-Fed)for projects 50 feet deep and less; it is 50%(Federal)/50%(Non-Federal) for projects greater than 50 feet deep. 

A deeper/wider shipping channel allows larger and fewer ships to move the same amount of goods at a lower transportation cost. Fewer, larger ships also would lessen congestion in the harbor, according to the General Revaluation Report (GRR). A deeper channel means larger ships can enter and leave with less delay waiting for high tides.

With regard to the benefits, the basic economic benefit is the reduction in the costs to transport the commodities. This reduction represents a National Economic Development (NED) gain because when transportation costs are reduced, those dollars are available for productive use elsewhere in the economy. We do not try to estimate where exactly these resources are used; from a NED perspective it would be almost impossible to do so.

The term “efficiencies” means a savings in transportation costs. Those savings may be passed on to the consumer through lower prices in the goods purchased.

The Corps of Engineers can only consider national benefits when determining the recommended plan. Other benefits (state or regional) may exist but cannot be considered by the Corps.

The Corps determines engineering feasibility, economic viability, and environmental acceptability; Congress determines which projects the nation invests in.

We look at the issues from a national perspective. We consider actions that will increase the net value of the national output of goods and services. At the end of our evaluation, we identify the plan that maximizes net benefits to the nation.


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A description and history for the Miami Harbor Deepening projects, along with project related documents, can be found at:

It’s important to note that the study phase for the previous project, Phase 3 Deepening, began in 2000. The Corps made the recommendation for a 50 foot channel depth in April 2005.  At that time, the most recent data available was through 2003 and the world's largest container ships were around 5,200 to 7,600 TEUs which consisted of 104 vessels total.  The second largest class included vessels in the 3,900 to 5,200 TEU range and totaled 203.  The largest vessels consistently calling on the East Coast at that time were around 4,500 TEUs.  Over the last few years the number and size of the World Fleet has grown substantially. The completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2015 changed world shipping patterns and the vessel types that transit them.   In 2015 there were around 388 vessels ranging from 7,600 to 12,000 TEUs and 124 vessels greater than 12,000.  By 2030, those numbers are forecasted to be around 742 vessels between 7,600 to 12,000 TEUs and 458 vessels greater than 12,000 TEUs.     

Among triggers for growth in international trade is the expanded Panama Canal, since deep-draft ports on Florida’s eastern seaboard are serving an increasing number of mega-ships. (Source: Pathway to Prosperity: The 2019-2023 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan) Since the last expansion at Miami Harbor, the size of vessels in the world fleet has increased, and to accommodate wider and deeper draft vessels, Miami Harbor will require additional modifications to remain competitive and to accommodate these vessels.

The Biscayne Bay Pilots Association (BBPA) who bring the ships into Port are facing multiple difficulties in maneuvering when entering the outer entrance channel from the ocean, translating into delays in vessel transportation while pilots wait on optimal conditions in specific areas of the channel in order to transit safely.  Additional needs consist of allowing a larger turning radius for larger Post-Panamax vessels in Lummus Island Turning Basin,  reducing cruise ship turning/transit time in the Fisher Island Turning Basin, and allowing larger Post-Panamax vessels and cruise ships in Fisherman’s Channel to transit past moored containerships, specifically when the gantry cranes are loading them. 

Given the aforementioned issues, the Port of Miami wanted to determine the best course of action and therefore requested a new feasibility study in March 2018, followed by the Corps of Engineers completing an Initial Appraisal in April 2018, thus resulting in a recommendation for a new feasibility study. See Section 216 of the Flood Control Act of 1970. The Miami Harbor feasibility study commenced with the signing of the Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) on 09/04/2018 and will be complete with the signing of the Chief of Engineer's Report by the end of 2021.

A feasibility study is conducted over a 36 month period of time, starting with signing of the Feasibility Cost Sharing Agreement (FCSA) and ending with a Chief of Engineer's Report. The total study cost is limited to $3 million, so the Non-Federal cost share is limited to $1.5 million.

The previous Miami Harbor project was completed in 2015, but the Panama Canal Expansion was completed a year later in 2016, changing worldwide shipping patterns and needs for Florida Ports, and in particular the Port of Miami.

Other East coast ports are being expanded, but no two ports are alike, and Port of Miami is recognized as the cruise capital of the world and the cargo gateway of the Americas.

Demand for freight transport, cruise calls, and TEU’s per vessel continues to increase annually at Miami Harbor.  For example, freight and cruises increased at Miami Harbor between 2012 and 2016, increasing an average 1.7% per year for freight and increasing an average 5.9% per year for cruise ship calls. In addition, TEUs moved per vessel call increased over 11% per year between 2012 and 2016 at Miami Harbor. (Source: Initial Appraisal Report Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Project date April 2018)

In addition, Port of Miami is Miami-Dade County’s second most important economic engine contributing $43 billion annually to the local economy and supporting more than 334,500 jobs in South Florida.

Both container vessels and cruise ships experience transportation inefficiencies.  For example, container vessels entering/exiting Miami Harbor today are restricted by channel depth and must light load and/or wait on tide in order to enter the Port. In addition, cruise ships can also experience considerable time delays and scheduling conflicts because of limited turning basin dimensions.

Benefits include larger vessel access, more efficient use of existing vessels, reductions of congestion, lower cargo handling, and less tug assist costs for commodities, and more efficient use of waterway transportation.

Specifically, a deeper harbor would mean that Post-Panamax size container vessels would have the opportunity to load more cargo per voyage and would thus be able to move the same tonnage each year with fewer annual voyages. Each voyage that is reduced on an annual basis equates to transportation costs savings, reduced fossil fuel consumption, and associated emissions.

With a deeper/wider harbor, tidal delays could potentially be reduced. Currently, in Miami Harbor specific vessels, referred to as Special Class vessels, cannot transit during tidal flood current or at night. Flood currents are generated when water pushes inland on the approach to high tide and ebb currents are generated when water pushes offshore on the approach to low tide. The Biscayne Bay Pilots Association (BBPA) have rules in place Harbor referenced at Daylight only transit and other flood current restrictions also apply on departure can be referenced at  Because vessels must transit around these restrictions, transportation inefficiencies occur in the form of delays.

The Army Corps Of Engineers (ACOE) circular, EC 11052-412, mandates the use of certified or approved models for all  planning activities to ensure the models are technically and theoretically sound, compliant with USACE policy, computationally accurate, and based on reasonable assumptions. The following planning models are used to develop a recommended plan for navigation projects: HarborSym (Economics), Regional Economic System (Economics), ADCIRC / SWAN (Storm Surge Analysis), and the Uniform Mitigation Assessment Method & HEA (Environmental Resources).

In addition, the Ship Simulator at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is being utilized to evaluate the proposed channel modifications.  The ship-simulator/vessel response models are used in conjunction with tidal circulation and wave models. Simulator components developed in-house include visual scenes and the environmental conditions used in the simulator, which incorporate model-generated multi-dimensional hydrodynamic flow fields, tides, and waves.  In addition to having subject matter experts conduct these studies, only licensed pilots are chosen for operating the simulator vessels.  These pilots, such as the Biscayne Bay Pilots, have years of experience in navigating the federal channel being studied.

Due to the impending increase in the number of Post Panamax vessels in the world fleet and the opening of the Panama Canal expansion, the transition of larger vessels to Florida’s Ports is anticipated to occur, with or without the proposed channel widening and deepening of Miami Harbor.  However, previous navigation analyses have demonstrated that channel improvements alone will not have an impact on the forecasted demand of commodities handled at a particular port. 

The Port of Miami (Sponsor) asserts that the proposed channel improvements at Miami Harbor would allow for those commodities that are transported through the harbor to move more efficiently.  If the project is approved and the modifications allow vessels calling on the harbor to transit more efficiently (carrying additional cargo per call), the total number of cargo vessels required to meet the anticipated demand at Miami Harbor during the period of analysis would most likely decrease compared to the current channel configuration.   According to the report “Pathway to Prosperity: The 2019-2023 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan”, larger vessels make fewer port calls but deliver higher volumes of international tonnage to the ports that they choose to call.

Deepening is not anticipated to have an adverse effect on storm surge, however, it will be fully evaluated through detailed modeling and analyses during the feasibility study utilizing the ADCIRC / SWAN model (Storm Surge Analysis).  (Source: ADCIRC Storm Modeling for the Miami-Dade Study NOV2018 Report)

The Corps will work with the pertinent regulatory agencies to conduct the necessary existing condition evaluations and assess direct and indirect effects for the proposed project.  We propose to utilize all existing information while considering options for supplementing the overall dataset to provide an appropriate depiction of the project area.  The area or amount of direct and indirect impacts will be considered during the alternatives review and the selection of the preferred alternative.  We will consider the lessons learned from the previous Miami Harbor project and new measures to avoid and/or minimize potential impacts to resources.

Corps, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FLDEP), Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), US Fish & Wildlife (USFW)  and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) staff have agreed to attend a Corps hosted monthly environmental interagency check-in meeting in an effort to enhance communication, address developing issues, and solve potential problems during the feasibility study. The Corps will consider lessons learned from the previous Miami Harbor project along with new strategies to comply with Federal/State laws and regulations. In addition, the Corps is also reviewing recently collected data and published reports to help focus the monitoring plan to Miami Harbor’s current conditions.  Working with the regulatory agencies, the Corps will ensure that the monitoring plan provides the data necessary to determine project effects including type, degree, duration, and distance from the channel.

The Mitigation Plan will be crafted using existing mitigation opportunities along with consideration of new and developing practices which may compensate for anticipated project effects.   The amount of mitigation required will be determined by processing the overall impact amount through the appropriate functional assessments to generate a quantity of compensation mitigation.

No.  The impact assessment drives the functional assessment which determines the “loss” incurred by the project.  That loss will be then translated into a “need” or amount of compensatory mitigation necessary to offset the loss.  It also directs the geographic area for surveying and monitoring to occur.  It may influence the adaptive management plan, especially if instrumentation is utilized.  The impact assessment is very important to cost, but it also is vital for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to disclose and discuss the impacts to the human environment.  It will also be critical for compliance with Endangered Species Act (ESA), Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA).

Yes. The feasibility study will identify and examine realistic beneficial use opportunities associated with the proposed widening and/or deepening activities.  Beneficial use considerations will include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Fill legacy dredge holes in Biscayne Bay in an effort to promote recolonization of sea grass and develop a more robust ecosystem within Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.
  • Utilize an upland site, such as Virginia Key, to stage and hold dredged material for future public projects, instead of placing the entirety of the material in the Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Site (ODMDS) four miles offshore. 

April 26 2019 Status Update Meeting

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District staff will host a public teleconference April 26 from 11 a.m. to noon to provide an update on the ongoing Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Study and to provide information on the study progress and upcoming milestones. The April 26 update will review ongoing and future engineering, economic, and environmental tasks. Members of the public can join the call by dialing 1-877-336-1831 using access code 6046670 and security code 1234.  View the presentation for the meeting.

Nov. 7 2018 Scoping Meeting Posters

Economic Considerations Engineering Considerations Environmental Considerations
Benefits and Costs Design and Construction Assessment, Avoidance & Minimization
Miami Harbor Economic Considerations Miami Harbor Engineering Considerations Miami Harbor Environmental Considerations

Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Study

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District will host two National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) scoping meetings for the Miami Harbor Navigation Improvement Study. The meetings will be held on Wednesday, November 7 at Cruise Terminal F on Port Miami, 1103 North Cruise Blvd., Miami, Fla. 33132 (complimentary parking in Lot G). The first meeting will take place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and the second meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. The information at both meetings will be the same.

The purpose of the scoping meeting is to present and discuss the production of a NEPA document for the feasibility study, and to assess the effects of potential navigation improvements to Miami Harbor. The scoping meetings will aid in determining the scope of the NEPA analysis and any potentially significant issues. The NEPA process will also identify alternatives and information needed to evaluate alternatives. Alternatives under consideration for the study include:

1.) No action;

2.) widening and/or deepening of specific areas within Miami Harbor’s federally authorized channels, including: the Outer Entrance Channel Flare, Outer Entrance Channel, Elbow, Fisherman’s Channel, and Dodge-Lummus Island Turning basin.

Issues that are anticipated include concern for hardbottom/reef communities, turbidity and sedimentation associated with dredging operations, seagrasses, threatened and endangered species, and cultural, commercial and recreational resources.

We welcome views, questions, comments, concerns and suggestions. The Corps believes this study will benefit significantly from public involvement and encourages participation in the NEPA scoping process. Letters of comment or inquiry should be sent to or be addressed to the Planning Division, Environmental Branch, Jacksonville District, 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32207, by Monday, November 26.

Contact Info

Progress Update

The Corps and Port Miami are working closely and coordinating weekly with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) scientists as post construction impact assessments continue at Miami Harbor. The impact assessment protocol is posted above and details the type of data that have been collected and the location of the various data collection sites. 

These data enable an assessment of the presence and severity of potentially project-related sedimentation at each site, which can be used in conjunction with information on benthic communities (condition of organism) to determine adverse effects of the project on hardbottom and coral reef resources.

The biological data assessment is still underway by the FDEP and NMFS.