Transportation

Light rail to Miami Beach may cost $532 million

 
WEB VOTE Planners say a passenger light-rail system from downtown Miami to Miami Beach would cost about $532 million to build and $22 million a year to operate. Are you in favor?

achardy@elnuevoherald.com

A passenger light-rail system from Government Center in downtown Miami to the Convention Center in Miami Beach via the MacArthur Causeway would cost about $532 million to build and some $22 million a year to operate and maintain, project planners told the mayors of Miami-Dade, Miami and Miami beach during a meeting at County Hall Wednesday.

Mayors Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade, Tomás Regalado of Miami and Philip Levine of Miami Beach enthusiastically embraced the project and formed a partnership to pursue funding for the first major step in advancing the endeavor.

Though the project is still in a very early stage, the mayors’ agreement to seek funding as partners signaled that three key municipalities in the county are serious about taking the enterprise to the design and construction phase sometime in the future. There is no target date for construction at this time because funding for the project has not been secured.

The project has been around for years and came close to fruition in 2004 under the title Baylink that would have cost $482.71 million. The light-rail system being planned now envisages a modern version of the old streetcar, running on tracks at grade. Similar systems are now operating in some U.S. and European cities.

Wednesday’s meeting was the second in which transportation managers brief local government leaders about the project. During the first meeting in January project managers unveiled potential route options. At the time Gimenez and Regalado expressed support for the tracks going over the MacArthur Causeway. Levine did not attend the first meeting, but on Wednesday he seemed to back the project regardless of what final alignment is picked.

The highlight of the meeting was the agreement among the mayors to form a partnership to find the $3 million they need to finance a project development study that when completed it could advance the plan to design and construction. Under the plan, the $3 million would include $250,000 each from Miami-Dade, Miami and Miami Beach, along with $750,000 from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).

Mayors Gimenez and Levine said they plan to seek their share within their budgets. Regalado said the City of Miami does not have that amount in its general fund, but said his city would put up its $250,000 share if the county releases to it money from tax money earmarked for the municipality. Gimenez said he would look into Regalado’s request. Ysela Llort, the Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) director, said FDOT has committed its share of $750,000.

The most uncertain amount is the $1.5 million federal contribution because the partnership of three municipalities will first have to apply for it under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. The deadline to apply is April 28.

If USDOT grants the money and all others put up their shares, the next challenge will be finding enough money to build, operate and maintain the system. During Wednesday’s meeting the mayors spoke of finding a private concessionaire that would put the money to build and operate the project under a public-private partnership similar to the arrangement under which the $1 billion PortMiami tunnel is being built.

“We are going to come up with our $250,000 match,” said Gimenez. “The City of Miami wants us to help them with their $250,000 match by using some monies that are earmarked for the city that we are holding and get back to Mayor Regalado.”

Levine said: “We need a state of the art system. We just need to figure out how to pay for it.”

As for Miami Beach’s $250,000 contribution, Levine said he’ll put the item on the city commission’s agenda.

“I’ll vote for it,” said Levine.

County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said that rather than building a light-rail system the existing Metromover operating in Miami could be extended to Miami Beach over the MacArthur Causeway.

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