Miami-Dade County

Long trains, short platforms at new Miami airport train station won’t force permanent street closure

After months of considering expensive tunnels or reconstruction to fix a design flaw at the new train station near Miami International Airport — short platforms that will leave some long trains jutting into the street — state transportation officials ended up with the simplest, and cheapest, solution.

The Florida Department of Transportation said Thursday it will build two short new streets in the adjacent commercial district to provide motorists a detour when some longer Amtrak trains are parked at Miami Central Station, which is under construction and scheduled for completion next summer. The trains will block busy Northwest 25th Street for up to 45 minutes at a time once or twice a day, depending on the season, FDOT said.

Two Miami-Dade County commissioners and a top FDOT administrator cut a ribbon strung across the street Thursday by driving through it to underscore the fact Northwest 25th, which state officials once contemplated closing permanently, will instead remain open — most of the time.

“It was an incredible fight and, after many months of interchanges, finally we won,’’ said Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, who led opposition by local officials and area business owners to a permanent street closure.

FDOT engineers and consultants blame Amtrak, the federal passenger rail agency, for the design mistake, which means that platforms at the new station will be as much as 200 feet too short to accommodate some of the long trains the service sometimes uses on its Miami routes. Amtrak runs those long trains to Miami up to twice a day during the winter tourism season.

FDOT says Amtrak failed to tell the agency of those longer trains and raised no issues with platform length during extensive design-plan reviews that preceded the start of construction in May 2011 — something Amtrak denies.

FDOT officials disclosed the issue in January, and initially proposed extending the platforms across Northwest 25th. That fix would have required permanent closure of the commercial street, which links LeJeune Road to Douglas Road and Northwest South River Drive.

The cost of building the new cut-through streets, acquiring land and installing electronic signals to advise motorists when Northwest 25th is closed will run around $9 million, FDOT said. The agency, which is building the train station, had also started erecting the new extended platforms that would have closed Northwest 25th Street permanently, but had to demolish the unfinished job when objections from county officials and local business owner derailed that plan.

The state agency says it has no way to recoup the money from Amtrak.

FDOT district secretary Gus Pego said building a tunnel or an overpass, some of the other options considered, would have cost as much as $55 million. He said the cost of the fix represents only a small percentage of the total $723 million cost of building the station and the massive transportation hub it is a part of.

“Sometimes you have to make course corrections,” Pego said, adding that other cities have also had to make adjustments around stations to handle longer trains. “We looked at what’s working elsewhere. This is the more cost-effective option.’’

The new train station, which will serve both Amtrak and the regional commuter service, Tri-Rail, is the last piece of the Miami Intermodal Center, or MIC, which sits across LeJeune Road from the airport. The MIC is connected to MIA by an elevated PeopleMover tram and also includes the airport’s car-rental center and a new Metrorail station.

One of the new roadways would extend Northwest 28th Street, which now dead ends at the train tracks, across to Northwest 37th Avenue (Douglas Road). The second would jog from Northwest 25th just east of the train tracks north to Douglas, so that motorists can bail out when the street is closed.

Train turnaround time, which includes loading and unloading passengers, takes between 30 and 45 minutes, according to FDOT.