President Donald Trump pledged environmental regulation wouldn’t hold up Miami-Dade’s quest for more rail projects, telling a county commissioner that federal permits will arrive “so fast your head will spin.”
The longtime owner of one of Miami-Dade’s largest resorts, Trump told Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo that federal red tape won’t hold up local transit projects.
“We’re going to get you the federal permits, OK? And we’re going to get you the environmental and transportation permits,” Trump said to Bovo, a fellow Republican seated a few seats down from the president at a White House event Monday touting the administration’s new infrastructure plan. “We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin. The question will be whether you can get the local permits. That’s up to you.”
The moment put Miami-Dade in the spotlight for the president’s unveiling of his infrastructure plan, with Bovo literally having a televised voice at the table as the White House tries to drum up support for its $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan relies on federal money to attract state, local and private dollars to major projects.
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Bovo cited Trump’s history in Miami — he owns the Trump National Doral golf resort and tried to take over the county’s Crandon Park golf course shortly before running for president — in making a pitch for Washington’s help.
“Mr. President, you would appreciate, knowing Miami-Dade the way you do, the gridlock we’re experiencing,” Bovo said.
The presidential statement also arrived at an interesting juncture in Miami-Dade’s latest effort to revive stalled plans to expand the 25-mile Metrorail system. Summoned to the White House was Bovo, a champion of expanding rail, and not Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has warned that Miami-Dade can’t afford either the expense or the red-tape delays required to extend Metrorail farther into the suburbs.
Gimenez last year proposed a $534 million plan to create dedicated lanes and elevated stations for high-tech bus service connecting Metrorail to Florida City to the south and Miami Gardens to the north. He’s pitching the stations as convertible to rail if Miami-Dade later can afford to expand Metrorail.
A Gimenez spokesman released a statement Monday that said: “Mayor Gimenez would welcome federal support to modernize our infrastructure and expand mass transit options.”
A national environmental group said rushing environmental reviews of large transit systems would result in “poorly contrived projects with unfortunate and unforeseen” consequences.
“Trump doesn’t understand a basic idea from business,” said Brett Hartl, director of governmental affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is a difference between doing a job fast and doing a job well.”
On Friday, Gimenez released a letter from Florida’s Transportation Department warning that federal dollars are a requirement for state dollars. The mayor described the letter as a reminder that securing federal transit dollars “is a lengthy process that will take several years.” Also last week, the county commission approved a Bovo plan — over resistance from the Gimenez administration — to create a special tax district to divert some property-tax revenue along future rail lines to help fund a Metrorail expansion or other major transit project.
Bovo cited the “tax-increment” legislation in his comments to Trump, saying “we’re trying to be very aggressive.”
While the review required to approve federal funding for rail has been cited as a roadblock in Miami-Dade, the main challenge remains money. A recent analysis by a transportation board that Bovo leads found an $18 million funding gap for a $1.5 billion expansion of Metrorail north and south. The corridors would be the first effort to implement the SMART Plan, a transit expansion blueprint estimated to cost as much as $6 billion once fully implemented.
Trump’s infrastructure plan calls for the federal government contributing about 20 percent of a transit project’s cost — while local governments have typically counted on Washington to pay at least 50 percent.
In his comments, Trump emphasized he wanted federal dollars to go to local projects that can get done quickly. “We’re not going to wait around for eight years because you’re having a local dispute,” Trump said.
Bovo said he was invited by the White House late last week to attend the infrastructure unveiling. He has never met privately with Trump, but the president gave an endorsement at the meeting. “I know you,” Trump said. “You’re going to get it done.”
McClatchy White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez contributed to this report.