Miami-Dade County

Late to the station: Miami rail hub near airport still delayed

Miami Central Station, part of a $2 billion transit center east of Miami International Airport, will now open in the summer of 2016.
Miami Central Station, part of a $2 billion transit center east of Miami International Airport, will now open in the summer of 2016. El Nuevo Herald

The arrival time for the next phase of mass transit in Miami-Dade County has been delayed.

Miami Central Station, part of a $2 billion transit center east of Miami International Airport, will now open in two phases: the Tri-Rail station this spring and the Amtrak station in summer 2016, said Ric Katz, a spokesman for the Miami Intermodal Center, known as MIC.

Officials had hoped to open the entire transit hub by last fall.

In addition to Tri-Rail and Amtrak stations, the Miami Central Station also includes Metrorail and Metrobus stations, an inter-city bus depot, as well as lockers and showers for bicyclists.

A rental car center, another major MIC component, opened in July 2010. The Metrorail and Metrobus stations opened in 2012.

Several factors played a role in the delay of the Miami Central Station opening, including unfinished work and a dispute between public agencies.

The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, known as MDX, is poised to take over supervision of the MIC from the Florida Department of Transportation, except for the rental car center, which is already managed by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. The Miami-Dade Aviation Department, which runs the airport, is a county unit.

For months, MDX, which operates some of the county’s busiest toll roads, has been in discussions with the county on the transfer of authority.

“MDX is working with the county on language for a supporting resolution that would allow transfer of the MIC to MDX,” said Mario Diaz, the expressway authority spokesman.

Emilio González, director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, said his department must participate in MIC decisions because it’s mandated by a 2002 bond-holder agreement between the county and FDOT.

“We’re the largest economic engine in the state, and we’re probably the biggest single employment provider in the county, if not the state,” he said. “And I’m not going to do anything, nor rush through anything, unless I know that the decisions made are not going to negatively impact this organization.”

Also playing a role in the delay: a dispute over money between FDOT, which designed and built the MIC, and the general contractor— an issue that has since been settled. Also delaying things: a minor safety issue over inadequate railings on stairs leading to station platforms.

“We will not open the facility until safety issues are resolved,” Katz said.

An earlier problem, already resolved, involved the platforms for Amtrak trains.

In January 2013, FDOT acknowledged that it learned only after construction began that the Amtrak trains would be longer than expected. So the platform built to serve Amtrak was about 200 feet too short, meaning that some trains would jut north into busy Northwest 25th Street.

To fix that, FDOT settled on keeping Northwest 25th Street open with the caveat that it will close for up to 45 minutes twice a day during peak seasons when long Amtrak trains arrive.

To reroute traffic around delays, FDOT agreed to build two short new streets in the area as alternate routes.

Earlier this month, railroad workers conducted intermittent traffic stops on Northwest 25th Street between 38th Court and 37th Avenue to test train operation systems at the MIC’s Miami Central Station.

The Miami Central Station is the culmination of decades of planning aimed at creating a hub that houses under one roof several major modes of transportation.

Once fully operational, a traveler could catch a bus in Florida City, travel north to Dadeland, transfer to Metrorail and head to the MIC on the Orange Line. Then that traveler could head to the airport on an automated train that links the MIC to MIA or hop on a Tri-Rail train and head all the way up through Broward and to Palm Beach County.

The same traveler, when returning, could either rent a car at the MIC or board Metrorail down to Dadeland and then a Metrobus back to Florida City.

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