In Miami Beach’s fast-moving process to build an estimated $380 million light rail loop in South Beach, city commissioners voted to negotiate an interim agreement with the French rail company that sparked the bidding process almost a year ago.
The decision was the city’s biggest step yet toward building a local modern streetcar system that Beach officials want to see break ground within four years.
Alstom, as part of a consortium of firms, submitted an unsolicited proposal last year to build a local streetcar system that would be one-third of a future rail system that would connect to downtown Miami. The city used that proposal as the basis for a bidding process that attracted Alstom and two other teams who competed on the basis of their designs and technologies for a streetcar — not the price.
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On Wednesday, commissioners instructed City Manager Jimmy Morales to negotiate a preliminary deal with Alstom, which was the top-ranked bidder. If negotiations fall through, Morales is supposed to work with the second-ranked team, Connect Miami Beach.
The city did not commit to any contract. The interim agreement would need commission approval before a final contract is proposed.
The other teams formally protested the rankings, saying Alstom’s proprietary technology would prevent the Beach loop from connecting to a future rail system across the MacArthur Causeway. Should Alstom end up providing the Beach’s train, competitors would have to adapt their trains on the mainland to fit Alstom’s system.
The city rejected the protests. City Attorney Raul Aguila said that if bidders wanted to appeal further, they’d have to do so in circuit court.
The commission also decided against negotiating with all bidders at the same time, which would have given them the opportunity to compare prices.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez objected to negotiating with only Alstom, saying she thought the city should talk to all three about price. Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán noted that the commission chose to evaluate on qualifications and then negotiate price in order to move faster.
“We chose this path for expediency,” she said. “We need to keep our eyes open for all the points of negotiation.”
The city wants to negotiate a 35-year contract. Over the course of the deal, the payments would be made as construction reached certain milestones, and, once the train is running, as it hit certain performance goals. The city’s preliminary estimate would break down to about $11 million a year in construction costs.
Bidders were not required to submit a price during this solicitation. According to Alstom’s initial submission last year, annual payments for the contract term could be as high as $26 million a year, assuming public funds are used to pay for 12.5 percent of construction costs.
The city is in the midst of an environmental study that would help it qualify for state funding for the project, but not federal money. Federal subsidies would require a longer study that commissioners have said would take too long.