From Dubai to Frankfurt, Madrid to Bordeaux, light rail public transit is efficiently keeping residents and tourists moving. Cities throughout the United States are also embracing light rail and modern street cars as essential components of the rapidly growing demand for functional, sustainable communities. Miami-Dade is among them. Over the past few years, Miami-Dade County’s increasing numbers of mixed-use high rises with residential, retail, hotel and office space have transformed the skyline. A large and diverse pool of students, professionals, and tourists, now live, work, study and play in the area’s urban centers. With an increasingly concentrated population and changing demographics, addressing traffic congestion is indeed a top priority.
This is why the time is now for the Bay Link project. With approximately 80 percent of Miami Beach residents in favor of this concept (a 2013 poll showed that residents favor a light rail connection as long as it is aesthetically pleasing with no catenary wires), Bay Link seeks to connect Miami Beach to downtown Miami. This is a fundamental step to alleviate traffic congestion between the county’s biggest city (and downtown) and its largest tourist center and main convention center. It will also link the various components of the growing Miami-Dade transit system. (According to transit ridership numbers for the fourth quarter of 2013 released by the American Public Transportation Association, Miami’s transit system increased its ridership by 10.6 percent per year, the highest ridership increase in the nation.) Bay Link is our community’s opportunity to maintain our position as a top tourist destination while also improving the lives of our residents.
And it’s happening. The newly initiated Beach Corridor Transit Connection Study is a revived endeavor to update the original 2004 Bay Link plan. A decade ago, the plan to connect Miami Beach to downtown through a light rail system along the MacArthur Causeway (I-395) was abandoned due to competing funding priorities and lack of political will. Now, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez has made Bay Link one of his top priorities. In fact, last year the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization, in collaboration with Miami-Dade County, City of Miami, City of Miami Beach, Florida Department of Transportation, Miami Downtown Development Authority and Miami-Dade County’s Transit Department initiated the task of analyzing the costs and reviewing the alignment of a light rail connection. A Project Executive Committee was created to review the findings and recommendations of the Study. Chaired by Gimenez, the PEC also includes Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, county commissioner and MPO board member Bruno A. Barreiro and county commissioner Xavier L. Suarez.
Today, the Bay Link project is finally closer to becoming a reality. On Jan. 28 and on April 2, the PEC convened to review the alternatives as well as project financing. Although it remains to be decided whether the connection will be via the MacArthur Causeway (I-395) or the Julia Tuttle Causeway (I-195), it is evident that now there is political will and community support behind the project. The mayors of all three jurisdictions involved are in favor of a light rail connection. In his State of the County Address on Feb. 26, Gimenez affirmed his intention to move forward with the project. He supports establishing a public private partnership (P3), an innovative and increasingly popular project financing and delivery method. P3s provide for greater involvement of the private sector in the design, building, financing, operation and maintenance of public infrastructure projects. At the same time, they allow the public sector to leverage private funds to develop projects that would otherwise be unfeasible. This model has been widely used in Europe and Canada, and has recently proven successful in local projects such as the Port of Miami Tunnel and I-595 Express. Bay Link could be next in our community’s list of success stories.
Alexander P. Heckler is an attorney and the founding & co-managing partner of LSN Partners, LLC, a Miami-based, national consulting firm. He assists clients in the transportation industry, among others, in all aspects of government affairs and communications.