Tri-Rail won a key committee vote Wednesday for $13.9 million in Miami-Dade transit taxes to bring the government-run commuter line to a for-profit rail depot rising in downtown Miami.
The County Commission’s Transportation committee unanimously endorsed the funding package, which should face a final vote later this month. The money would be part of a larger $69 million government package for the Tri-Rail station, with $20 million from Florida and $29 million from Miami and various special taxing districts within the city, including the Omni and Overtown community-redevelopment authorities. Elected officials still must give final approval for the Miami dollars, but city leaders say they’re confident the package will fall into place.
At stake is a station Tri-Rail wants to add to All Aboard Florida’s Miami complex, which the developer is building to house both its new rail line connecting Miami to Orlando and a sprawling commercial and residential complex downtown. All Aboard’s corporate parent is Florida East Coast Industries, which evolved from the rail enterprise Henry Flagler launched in 1892.
Tri-Rail is a government-funded commuter line that connects Miami-Dade with Boca Raton, and currently passengers can only take it as far south as Miami International Airport. The new downtown station would use All Aboard track to connect with a TriRail station north of MIA, on 79th Street. Once open, TriRail would send some 79th Street trains to MIA and some south to downtown.
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To fund its share, Miami-Dade would dip into a $55 million reserve of transit tax that’s being saved for major projects.
A Tri-Rail Miami station wouldn’t mean a new rail route for downtown: already, Miami-Dade’s Metrorail system’s Green line already runs to 79th Street and its Orange line runs to MIA.
Tri-Rail director Jack Stephens said Wednesday the new Tri-Rail station would only shave about six minutes off the 24 minutes it takes to get from the 79th Station to downtown using the Green Line. Passengers looking for a train at MIA would still take Metrorail to downtown, not TriRail.
But backers see two big advantages to bringing Tri-Rail downtown. First, eliminating the need to transfer trains should make the rail option much more palatable to people who otherwise would be driving back and forth to downtown. “Whenever you put a transfer in, you put in a barrier and people say it’s not worth it,” Stephens said.
Second, by taking advantage of All Aboard’s new station and rail tracks, Tri-Rail can plant itself downtown at a fraction of the cost it would face if it had to acquire real estate itself. That gives Tri-Rail a chance at a far more ambitious plan down the road: using FECI track again to create a new commuter line closer to the coast, able to serve popular Miami-Dade stops like Aventura.
Tri-Rail, which is funded by Florida and the three counties that it services, does not have the money to launch the coastal link. But backers see the Miami station as at least preserving the option should funding surface for a coastal line.
“This is one piece in the puzzle,” County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said Wednesday. “This definitely sets us up for the future.”