Miami-Dade County

Genting monorail push clears first vote. County opens Beach transit link for bids.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, talks to Commissioner Rebeca Sosa at Wednesday’s meeting where commissioners adopted the mayor’s recommendation to solicit bids for a Miami-to-Miami-Beach transit link. Sosa voted against it.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, right, talks to Commissioner Rebeca Sosa at Wednesday’s meeting where commissioners adopted the mayor’s recommendation to solicit bids for a Miami-to-Miami-Beach transit link. Sosa voted against it. mocner@miamiherald.com

Genting kept its monorail plan alive Wednesday when Miami-Dade commissioners accepted the casino company’s proposal to launch a bidding contest for building a tax-funded transit system across Biscayne Bay, linking Miami with South Beach.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez revealed details about Genting’s plans just ahead of the vote, saying the Malaysian company and partners agreed to waive some confidentiality protections in order to combat misguided media coverage of the confidential proposal.

Gimenez said Genting wanted to swap land in Miami for a new monorail, Metromover and bus station that would be built on or near the casino company’s waterfront property in Miami. Local and state governments would pay about $240 million toward construction of the $400 million system, and the county would pay the monorail operator an annual undisclosed amount for operations that he suggested would be in the millions. He said the Genting partnership known as the Miami Beach Monorail Consortium would put up the rest of the money, Gimenez said. To speed the process, no federal grants would be sought.

“It’s a viable solution,” Gimenez said of the plan, which is backed by a Chinese monorail manufacturer and a company formed by two leaders of the mayor’s 2016 reelection campaign. “But all we’re asking today is that we open a competitive process.”

In a 9-3 vote, commissioners approved Gimenez’s request to launch a bidding process sometime in the fall. Genting and rivals would then have six months to respond to the county’s request for proposals. After the deadline, the county could accept one of the proposals or reject them all and start again.

The timeline should push the county’s decision to pick Genting or a rival until after a Miami-Dade consultant finishes a $10 million study of the best transit system to link Miami with Miami Beach. Miami-Dade has been studying options for a “baylink” transit system since the 1980s, and some commissioners said they welcomed a private company offering to jump-start the process.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that 31 years is too long to wait,” said Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who represents the part of Miami Beach where the monorail line would end.

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“I’ve come to the conclusion that 31 years is too long to wait,” said Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who represents the part of Miami Beach where the monorail line would end. She voted in favor of soliciting bids. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Gimenez said he wanted to limit the Beach bids to the three transit options under study by the Parsons engineering firm. Those are monorail, rapid-transit buses (which use dedicated lanes and group boarding to speed bus service) and an extension of the county’s existing Metromover system in Miami.

Commissioners Jean Monestime, Xavier Suarez and Rebeca Sosa voted No. Commissioner Barbara Jordan was not present for the vote. She is part of a delegation with the Transportation Planning Organization visiting transit options in Asia, including the monorail that Genting partner BYD operates in China. Sosa raised concerns about Miami-Dade turning to a company with China ties for a transit project. “I want to see if they have any relations with a country that can be adverse to the United States,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Martinez said launching a competition in response to Genting’s proposal is going to make other transportation developers less likely to compete.

“You want it clean? Reject it,” Martinez said of the Genting proposal that the county received in May. He said Miami-Dade should start with its own process to solicit bids for the Beach corridor, and not be restrained by the confidentiality rules hovering over the Genting proposal. “Everyone starts at Ground Zero,” he said.

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Commissioner Joe Martinez said launching a competition in response to Genting’s proposal is going to make other transportation developers less likely to compete, but he voted for it. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Gimenez countered that his administration will essentially take the same action — drafting a request for proposals that the commission will vote on in September before the official solicitation begins for any transit developer that wants to compete. Genting can submit a fresh proposal once that process begins, or stick with the one deemed “financially viable” by the county’s staff.

“This is spurring a public process,” Gimenez said.

Financial details of the Genting proposal have not been released. On Tuesday, a Genting lawyer issued a letter waiving certain confidentiality provisions related to the project. Gimenez went further, sharing rough dollar amounts he said were contained in the proposal. Florida’s open-record laws contain exemptions for proposals designated as unsolicited by a local government until competing bids can be received.

Gimenez described a monorail project costing close to the $300 million rapid-transit bus system Miami-Dade is building in South Dade. Florida and Washington are expected to pick up large chunks of that construction cost, while the county expects yearly operating costs to run between $10 million and $12 million once it opens in 2023. Gimenez said the yearly payment from the county for the monorail system would be “substantially lower” than the South Dade costs.

The monorail line would run from Miami, taking passengers across the MacArthur Causeway and ending in South Beach. Genting and partners would operate it. Gimenez said the company agreed to free rides for holders of weekly and monthly county transit passes, but the other riders would pay an undisclosed fare.

Albert Dotson Jr., a Miami lawyer and lobbyist representing the monorail group, issued a statement Wednesdsay evening praising the vote and stating: “The community has been waiting for this connector for over 30 years and competition will finally help make this project a reality.”

This post was updated to correct the names of the commissioners who voted against the proposal.

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