Downtown Miami

Tri-Rail closing in on funds for Miami rail connection

A rendering of All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral station
A rendering of All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral station

A push to secure $70 million in public funds to connect Tri-Rail commuter trains from Palm Beach County to downtown Miami is closer than ever after Miami commissioners voted Monday to commit another $17.5 million toward the efforts.

Commissioners, sitting as the board of the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, agreed to release the funds in the form of tax rebates. The money would come out of property tax payments by All Aboard Florida, which is building the MiamiCentral station that will serve as a terminus for its intracity trains and — if the full $70 million becomes available — Tri-Rail trains.

With Monday’s vote, and $27 million already in hand from other local agencies, including the city and Miami-Dade County, Tri-Rail’s parent company, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), will seek the final $25 million from the state of Florida. That includes more than $5 million from the agency’s own subsidized coffers, and about $20 million from the Florida Department of Transportation.

With the full $70 million, Tri-Rail would be able to build two additional elevated platforms in the Miami entral project and run tracks into the terminus. The state is already building a new spur to connect the CSX line that Tri-Rail trains take out to the Hialeah Metrorail station to the Florida East Coast Railway system that heads into downtown. The subsidies sought by the rail agency will also help improve technology in the trains needed to ride the new rail system.

By connecting the CSX lines west off I-95 to the FEC railway, Tri-Rail riders would be able ride the trains directly to downtown Miami instead of transferring to Metrorail. The agency hopes to open the new connection by late next year or early 2017, and predicts that 2,000 riders would be able to take advantage of the additional stop.

But the end game is to use the downtown station as a jumping-off point for an East Coast line, which would cost close to $1 billion.

Tri-Rail and All Aboard executives have been seeking public assistance for about a year now, arguing that the opportunity to build a commuter train terminus without buying land in downtown is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the heavily subsidized SFRTA. Initially they said a deadline loomed in the spring, but efforts to secure the funds have taken far longer without the window of opportunity slamming shut.

In order to secure money from the Overtown CRA, Tri-Rail representatives agreed to a series of public benefits, including free Tri-Rail rides for poor residents in the redevelopment area. All Aboard Florida also promised to provide 600 square feet of community space in MiamiCentral, along with 20 percent of jobs related to station operations and 40 percent of unskilled Tri-Rail platform construction jobs for residents in the redevelopment area and other specific Zip codes.

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