Miami-Dade County

Genting’s Chinese monorail plan for Miami and Miami Beach faces first county vote

A monorail system operating in Seattle is one of the examples cited in a recent report by a Miami-Dade consultant on the possibility of bringing the transit option to Miami and Miami Beach. Casino giant Genting is partnering with a Chinese firm to convince Miami-Dade to give them a contract to build the monorail system.
A monorail system operating in Seattle is one of the examples cited in a recent report by a Miami-Dade consultant on the possibility of bringing the transit option to Miami and Miami Beach. Casino giant Genting is partnering with a Chinese firm to convince Miami-Dade to give them a contract to build the monorail system.

Casino giant Genting wants to build and operate a monorail between Miami and Miami Beach under a county contract with an unknown cost to taxpayers, and Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants approval next week to launch a bidding process to let other companies compete for the transit route.

Genting is part of a consortium that includes a Chinese monorail manufacturer and two leaders of Gimenez’s 2016 reelection campaign. The group is proposing to finally deliver a “baylink” transit system that has been on the county’s drawing board since Ronald Reagan was president. The county’s first baylink study was completed in 1988.

Genting’s chairman discussed the baylink project with Gimenez when he visited Hong Kong last year, but existence of the company’s monorail proposal was not publicly known until the Miami Herald reported on it last week.

On Wednesday, July 10, the Miami-Dade County Commission is set to vote on whether to accept Genting’s “unsolicited” proposal to launch a competition for the Miami-to-Miami Beach transit route. The Gimenez memo outlining the proposal does not say how much Genting and partners want from the government to build and operate the monorail system under a contract expected to last decades.

The beach corridor is one of six competing for local tax dollars and whatever state and federal funds Miami-Dade can secure in a process that began in 2016 with the launch of the SMART Plan. The County Commission hasn’t considered a formal bid for any of the six SMART corridors, so the Genting proposal could trigger a process putting the beach route ahead of the others in terms of funding and approvals.

The county has already settled on a $300 million rapid-transit bus system for the South Dade corridor and has begun soliciting interest from potential developers there. Miami-Dade also committed to elevated rail in North Dade but without a plan to pay for it.

State law exempts the May 2 Genting proposal from open-record rules until the county can invite and receive competing bids. A 2018 study for the county’s Transportation Planning Organization by the Atkins engineering firm estimated monorail would cost about $100 million per mile to build, but the Genting proposal includes Chinese technology touted as being far cheaper.

Other bidders must match Genting’s offer to build a transit system between the two cities and operate it for Miami-Dade, including how much the county must pay to cover construction, profit, and operating expenses. Gimenez said the county can’t have a firm handle on expenses until it sees all proposals. Once the window for competing proposals closes, the county could pick a winner or opt to reject all of them and start again.

When the French firm Alstom proposed a $148 million privatized streetcar system for Miami Beach in 2016, the city estimated the project would require about $17 million a year from the government. The project — which did not cross the bay — fizzled after residents objected.

“The estimated project cost for the Beach Corridor ... varies greatly depending on the proposed segment length, number of stations, and mode of transportation,” Gimenez wrote in a memo released Tuesday night.

Though Gimenez did not address costs to local government in his memo, he said analysis by county staff found the monorail proposal “was financially viable and offered a transportation solution that is consistent” with the Miami-Dade transit blueprint known as the SMART Plan.

The MacArthur Causeway bridge connecting Miami and Miami Beach already has the county’s busiest bus routes. The county last year asked transit developers for recommendations on how Miami-Dade might build a transit line there. It received 10 responses urging a range of options, including Metromover, light rail, monorail and streetcars, Gimenez said.

Genting is the Malaysian casino company that owns waterfront property in downtown Miami along the proposed transit route. The 14-acre property off the MacArthur Causeway used to hold the Herald offices and printing presses. Joining Genting in the bid is BYD Motors LLC, a subsidiary of a Chinese company making electric cars and automated monorail systems. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway is a top foreign investor in BYD.

A third partner in the “Miami Beach Monorail Consortium” is Aqualand Development, a company whose officers are two lobbyists who led Gimenez’s successful reelection campaign three years ago: finance chairman Ralph Garcia-Toledo and campaign manager Jesse Manzano-Plaza.

Both have worked for Genting — Manzano-Plaza as the company’s registered lobbyist, and Garcia-Toledo as a subcontractor on a Genting county contract to redevelop a Miami-Dade bus depot and Metromover stop next to the former Herald site.

Gimenez’s recommendation to accept Genting’s proposal and invite competing bids comes as Miami-Dade is paying a consultant to analyze the best transit plan for the beach corridor. That study — one of six launched as part of the county’s $25 million Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan process in 2016 — is not scheduled to finish until the end of 2019.

Gimenez’s memo did not address the need for the ongoing SMART study if Miami-Dade was going to invite developers to propose their own transit modes before the Parsons engineering firm completes its report.

Gimenez communications director Myriam Marquez said Tuesday night that the “consultant’s study can proceed to ensure public input and that all alternatives are considered for that corridor.”

If the commission approves Gimenez’s recommendation, the county must advertise for competing bids for as little as three weeks and for as long as four months. Marquez said the 13-member County Commission would decide on the timing for competing bids. A schedule the county posted in June for the beach corridor SMART study said it expected the process to end in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The study by the Parsons engineering firm is analyzing monorail, as well as the option of extending the county’s existing Metromover system to the beach, creating a light-rail line over Biscayne Bay or the cheaper route of a rapid-transit bus line using dedicated lanes to avoid traffic.

Under county rules modeled after state law, accepting a proposal formally designated as “unsolicited” kicks in a county procurement process that allows other bidders to compete with Genting. The Genting proposal and rival plans would not be made public until after all bids are received.

Miami-Dade is pursuing a similar bidding process for a new civil courthouse in downtown Miami, with developers invited to propose plans to build and operate the new facility in exchange for yearly payments from the county. Gimenez this week issued a memo saying yearly payments to the winning developer would likely start at $38 million, and cost taxpayers about $1.2 billion after 30 years.

The monorail resolution sent to the commission by Gimenez notes the legislation is not up for a review by the county’s Transportation committee, allowing for a quick vote on launching the beach corridor competition. County law gives the administration 90 days to review an unsolicited proposal. That deadline for Genting’s May 2 proposal arrives Aug. 2.

While the monorail proposal is new to the public and shielded by confidentiality rules, county leaders are scheduled to have a firsthand look at BYD’s monorail offerings in mainland China next week.

A trip to Asia scheduled by the Transportation Planning Organization, a board that includes the county commission and local elected officials, has the BYD’s “Skyrail” demonstration system in Shenzhen as its first stop on Thursday, July 11.

The transportation board plays a key role in the beach corridor decision, since it must approve transit projects eligible for federal transportation dollars. A delegation list for the trip to China and Japan released June 18 included Alice Bravo, the county’s transit director, and County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who would miss next week’s vote on whether to solicit bids.