Miami-Dade County

To beat traffic north of Miami, state recommends new ‘Purple Line’ for Metrorail

After studying monorail and magnetic-levitation trains, a Florida transportation consultant recommends Miami-Dade stick with its elevated Metrorail system and add a 10-mile extension north to Miami Gardens that would cost nearly $2 billion to build.

The preliminary report by state consultant WSP finds expanding Metrorail as the most cost efficient option open to Miami-Dade for the commuting corridor that runs north and south along Northwest 27th Avenue.

It recommends a 9.5-mile “Purple Line” running on elevated tracks above 27th Avenue, joining Metrorail’s Green Line and the Orange Line, which runs from Dadeland South to Miami International Airport. It would cost about $1.9 billion to build, with annual operating and maintenance costs of $49 million. There would be stations at Miami Dade College’s North Campus and at Hard Rock Stadium, along with other stops on 27th.

In the report released this week, WSP found that more novel technologies like “maglev” trains and the monorail option being pushed by for-profit transit developers have slightly lower construction or operating costs than the heavy-rail system that came to Miami-Dade when Metrorail opened in 1984.

Even so, Metrorail got the nod from WSP because its analysis found the new Purple Line would attract thousands more new riders to the system each day, and make the project far more competitive for the federal dollars that could cover half of the construction costs.

“This is a local decision,” Harold Desdunes, an engineer and Florida’s director of transportation system development in South Florida, told local government staff and officeholders at a public briefing on the study. “If the locals decide it should be urban maglev or monorail ... just make sure you understand the consequences of that.”

The study was commissioned as part of Miami-Dade’s 2016 SMART Plan process, which launched evaluations of the best transit options for six of the county’s busiest commuting corridors.

Miami-Dade has already picked rapid-transit bus as the best option for the South Dade corridor along the existing busway, and the County Commission earlier this month invited developers to submit proposals for transit connecting Miami to Miami Beach as consultants wrap up their own study on that SMART route. A similar request for proposals for the 27th Avenue corridor is expected later this year.

While Florida’s Department of Transportation is recommending a new Metrorail route to the north, the WSP study offers no insight into how to pay for it. Even though Metrorail scores far higher on the report’s cost-effective scale — $17.42 in costs per passenger hour, compared to between $40 and $45 for monorail and maglev — it’s still not listed as competitive for federal funding.

The new Purple Line would attract an estimated 21,800 riders per day, WSP said, far more than new daily riders for a maglev train (8,600 per day) or monorail (8,200) running between Metrorail’s existing Martin Luther King Jr. station off Northwest 62nd Street and a new station at Northwest 215th Street, by the Calder racetrack and casino.

But that estimated ridership pace still puts a Metrorail extension on 27th Avenue in the “low” category for cost-effectiveness by the federal Department of Transportation, WSP said. The line would need close to 40,000 new riders a day to be considered cost-effective under the federal scale.

“The mountain to climb is shorter,” said WSP engineer and project manager Marie-Elsie Dowell, referring to Metrorail’s proximity to viability in the eyes of federal transportation scorers, compared to newer technologies. “The next step is doing a balancing act in reducing the cost and improving ridership.”

Because the new Purple Line would overlap with existing Metrorail routes to Brickell, the transit plan would get credit for all riders using the new line, including those traveling between existing stations, Dowell said. That gives it a significant scoring advantage over new modes, which would only get credit for riders on the newly constructed tracks.

Expanding Metrorail north has been a county goal since the rail system launched in the Reagan administration, and Miami-Dade had secured federal approval for the project a decade ago before that effort fell apart during an economic downturn.

With the existing transit system already forced to cut service to close budget gaps, Miami-Dade leaders have headed overseas in search of cheaper rail options. That has coincided with a lobbying effort to push for privatized transit options, which involve companies building and operating new transit lines in exchange for yearly payments worth millions of dollars from Miami-Dade that would last for decades.

WSP unveiled its study during a meeting in the Miami Gardens office of Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, a longtime advocate of bringing rail north on 27th Avenue.

In July she joined a delegation of elected officials from Broward and Miami-Dade counties on a tour of transit facilities in Asia, including monorail and maglev trains. The hope is to bring per-mile costs down and expand funding options by having Broward, which recently approved a 1% transportation sales tax, extend a Miami-Dade system north beyond the county line.

“We cannot afford for the North Corridor to be priced out of existence,” Jordan said during the meeting, which was listed as a gathering of the North Corridor Transit Coalition. “If there’s an opportunity for another type of line to be built that may not be as costly as what we have now, in terms of heavy rail, then we need to take a look at that.”