Published June 8, 2008

How "new money for new projects" winds up fixing old problems first
A look at the Metrorail and Metromover over time.
BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

METRORAIL

The original 136-car fleet, which starts with the opening of the line in 1984, is designed to last 30 years as long as they receive regular federally mandated maintenance, inspections and a complete midlife overhaul in 1999 _ the same year a 1-percent sales tax failed at the polls. Miami-Dade never set aside the money for the overhaul, leading to a federal warning letter threatening to shut down the system prior to the 2002 election.

NOV 2002: Voters passed a half-cent sales tax for transportation in November 2002. But the campaign focuses on "New Money for New Projects." No funds are earmarked for the overdue railcar rehab.

MID 2003: Transit managers submit a list of 23 “miscellaneous capital’’ projects as the first major amendment to the Peoples Transportation Plan. The citizens watchdog panel that voters approved hasn’t even been sworn in yet. The list includes a $188 million line-item for the overdue railcar rehab. The watchdogs approve at their first formal meeting in July 2003; county commissioners follow in October.

2004-2005: Based on consultant’s recommendations, and with Transit and commissioners asking for several expensive add-ons, price estimate rises to $211 million in September 2004, and up to $258.4 million in mid-2005 after initial bids have been received from four teams vying for the job

JULY 2006: Unhappy with the original prices, Transit asks bidders for “best and final’’ offers. At $298.5 million, the lowest bid, submitted by Bombardier Transportation, is still $40 million higher than the consultant’s last estimate.

OCT 2006: After eight days of negotiations, Transit and Bombardier reach agreement on a final price: $274.49 million. The recommendation will sit on county managers’ desks, without action for 11 months. During that time, Transit works behind the scenes to seek out comparative prices to justify buying new cars instead.

SEPT 2007-MARCH 2008: With the rehab now eight years overdue, county decides that railcar rehab isn’t worth the price. Tears up four years and $9 million worth of consultant and staff work to move forward with new procurement to justify buying 136 new cars. The plan: replacements will start arriving in 2014 just as the original cars reach their 30th birthday and retirement.

NEW COST ESTIMATE (Covering the lost staff and consultant work, new car procurement, and extra money needed to keep the existing fleet operating until 2014): $401 million.




METROMOVER

The original 12-car fleet of driverless vehicles, which started circulating on the Inner Loop in downtown Miami in 1986, were designed to last 20 years as long as they were completely overhauled in 1996. Miami-Dade never set aside any money for the overhaul, leading to the deteriorating system. The second-generation 17-car fleet went into service with the opening of the Brickell and Omni Loops in 1994. They were due for mid-life overhaul in 2004.

NOV 2002: Voters approve the new sales tax and the People’s Transportation Plan list of projects. It doesn’t include any money to rehab or replace the Metromover cars.

EARLY 2003: Transit managers submit a list of 23 “miscellaneous capital’’ projects into the plan that voters never considered. The watchdog panel that voters approved hasn’t even been sworn in yet. The list includes a $15.4 million line-item for the overdue rehab of the original 12 cars. No money is set aside for the other 17.

JUNE 2004: Armed with a consultant’s recommendation, Transit and commissioners agree that it would be smarter to spend $20.7 million to buy 12 new cars from the sole-source vendor, Bombardier Transportation, and set aside $3.3 million to rehab the 17 second-generation vehicles. New price estimate: $24 million.

JAN 2006: Bombardier demands $41.2 million to replace the original 12 cars. After a lengthy impasse, Bombardier offers to considerably knock down its price if Miami-Dade Transit commits to buying 29 new cars. Commissioners agree. They set aside $26.75 million to the first 12 cars and an option to buy the other 17 for $34.37 million.

TOTAL IMPACT TO THE SALES TAX: $61.12 million.