Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade would pay more in Tri-Rail compromise

A Tri-Rail train heading north on the commuter line. The state-funded railway is pursuing a package of local dollars to join All Aboard Florida’s privately-funded train depot in downtown Miami.
A Tri-Rail train heading north on the commuter line. The state-funded railway is pursuing a package of local dollars to join All Aboard Florida’s privately-funded train depot in downtown Miami. EL Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez may have a Plan B if Miami fails to approve $11 million for bringing Tri-Rail to a privately funded train depot in downtown Miami. The mayor has agreed to secure an additional $5.5 million for the project on top of the $8.3 million already pledged if the city can match the new $5.5 million, according to two officials familiar with the plan.

The potential workaround comes hours before a showdown Thursday on the Miami City Commission, where advocates of the original $11 million funding package face a veto threat by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. Regalado said he’s against using general-fund dollars for the Tri-Rail facility, since the money can be used for police and other city needs. He seemed to pick up the support of Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez this week, who on Wednesday said he also would prefer not to tap the general fund for Tri-Rail.

Suarez said that he reached out to Gimenez on Wednesday and that the county mayor said “he would meet us half way.” Suarez said Miami’s portion would come from a reserve of city transit-tax dollars that are restricted to transportation expenses. “I’m hopeful this potential deal could bridge the gap,” Suarez said.

Michael Hernández, communications director for Gimenez, confirmed the deal that Suarez described. “Mayor Gimenez is willing to help bring Tri-Rail to downtown Miami however he can because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and part of his vision for a more connected community,” Hernández said. “Mayor Gimenez won’t allow politics to be an obstacle to good policy.”

Reached Wednesday night, Regalado said Suarez hadn’t notified him about the proposal when they spoke late in the afternoon. Regalado didn’t share a position on the transit-tax idea in the interview, but said he wanted to pursue different funding sources to lessen the burden on Miami. “I hope the commission will give the administration time to meet with more governments and find more dollars,” he said.

. Suarez said he saw the new funding equation as having enough support on the five-member commission to muster the four votes needed to override a Regalado veto.

The Tri-Rail debate has played out as a political drama, too, with Regalado’s daughter, school board member Raquel Regalado, challenging Gimenez in the 2016 county mayoral race. She joined her father in opposing the funding package for Tri-Rail.

Hernández said Miami commissioners made the request for more funds to Gimenez and county commissioners, who would need to sign off on the county’s transit-tax expenditure. A county oversight board, the Citizens’ Independent Transit Trust, also votes on transit-tax expenditures, though their decisions are subject to commission override by a two-thirds vote.

Suarez said he talked to Gimenez several times Wednesday while the county mayor was on a cruise ship during a spring-break vacation with his family. County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of Miami-Dade’s Transportation committee, also endorses the deal.

“I still think it’s a bargain,” Bovo said.

The new funding package would close an $11 million hole in Tri-Rail’s $69 million request to build a station in All Aboard Florida’s for-profit train depot in downtown Miami. Tri-Rail is counting on $29 million from Miami’s Southeast Overtown/Park West taxing district, which is controlled by the city commission but not subject to a mayoral veto. Tri-Rail is promising free rides for residents of the taxing district in exchange for the money.

Under the new proposal, Miami would use its share of a countywide sales tax dedicated to transportation expenses, which is the same revenue source that Gimenez has earmarked for the county’s $13.8 million total contribution. The state is expected to contribute about $17 million, with another $3 million coming in federal dollars.

All Aboard wants to bring Tri-Rail in as a way to boost foot-traffic at its own depot, which will also include a large commercial complex. Tri-Rail, a largely state-funded commuter line, wants the donwtown location to give its passengers a direct shot to its nearest station about nine miles away in the Hialeah area. Currently, catching Tri-Rail from downtown requires riding the county’s Metrorail train for six stops before reaching the Tri-Rail connection to West Palm Beach. All Aboard’s trains would run as far north as Orlando.

Marc Sarnoff, the Miami commissioner sponsoring the $11 million Tri-Rail funding request, said Wednesday he expected his plan to be modified once debate began. He said local government can’t pass up opportunities to ease the gridlock that consistently leaves residents fuming.

“I simply think we have an obligation to fix traffic in Miami,” he said.

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