Miami Beach

South Beach streetcar project cut in half because of cost

This rendering shows what Alstom’s streetcar would look like.
This rendering shows what Alstom’s streetcar would look like. Greater Miami Tramlink Partners

A $360 million plan to build a light-rail loop in South Beach has been cut down because of high costs and pushback from the community.

Miami Beach’s administration has also missed a 60-day self-imposed deadline to hash out an “interim agreement” — a pre-contract agreement that is supposed to outline a process and timeline for the real contract negotiations. Nearly twice as many days have passed since the city commission chose a bidder in July, but the city manager doesn’t expect to have an agreement until November or December.

City Manager Jimmy Morales told commissioners last week that he recommended reducing the project’s scope because of issues with funding, costs and logistics. Beach officials are reducing the construction cost to about $244 million by scaling back a full loop around the heart of South Beach to a track that would run along Fifth Street and up Washington Avenue to Miami Beach Senior High School.

Hopefully it helps reduce the temperature a little bit in the community.

City Manager Jimmy Morales

A second piece of the loop, which may or may not be done in the future, would include tracks along Dade Boulevard and Alton Road, heading south until it meets Fifth Street.

Morales also alluded to public opposition to the loop, particularly from business owners on Alton Road who recently suffered from more than a year of disruptive construction for drainage improvements.

“Hopefully it helps reduce the temperature a little bit in the community,” he said.

 

Another question that still needs to be resolved: the funding plan for construction. City Hall hopes it will get help from the state and county to cover construction costs.

“The funding plan for the project is still in development and will determine who pays for what up front and then what is paid annually,” Morales said.

Under the new approach, the city would take on $7 million in annual operating and maintenance costs once the train is running. That estimate is down from about $11 million for the full loop.

The light rail track, also called a “modern streetcar,” is supposed to be one third of a future rail connection across Biscayne Bay to downtown Miami — commonly known as Bay Link. The Beach decided late last year to move ahead of Miami and Miami-Dade County to build the island city’s portion of it first, which will likely limit Miami Beach’s ability to get federal funding for its part of the project.

The Beach held a solicitation based solely on qualifications and not price or schedule, which are typically evaluated as part of a longer process that creates more competition and involves writing more detailed technical requirements upfront.

Now, after ranking proposers based on their train technologies, the city remains in preliminary talks with the top-ranked consortium of companies called Greater Miami Tramlink Partners. French rail company Alstom would provide the trains if that team moves forward.

$244,811,443 estimated cost for construction of light rail train running along Fifth Street and up Washington Avenue to Miami Beach High School.

The city’s request for bidders states that the administration will negotiate an interim agreement within 60 days. The city intended to have that agreement by September, but commissioners told Morales they could wait until October.

At any point, the city could move to the second-ranked bidder — Connect Miami Beach, who sent a letter to commissioners after the initial 60 days had run, asking to be considered — but because the city can’t negotiate with more than one bidder at a time, it first would have to end talks with the top-ranked team.

When asked about the unresolved issues in the negotiations, Morales responded in a statement: “We are still in discussions regarding scheduling issues and technical deliverables.”

“It is expected that the interim agreement will be brought to the commission for consideration in November or December,” his statement said. “The City will continue negotiations with the top ranked proposer as long as progress continues to be made. The manager has the authority to proceed to the second ranked proposer should negotiations with the top ranked proposer be unsuccessful.”

I think that people don’t even realize that we are only moving forward with half the train.

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez

Last week, Morales briefly described the changes during a city commission meeting. No discussion was held after Mayor Philip Levine, an advocate of the current solicitation process, made it clear he wanted to keep things brief.

“Let’s not try to do a whole deep conversation and debate,” he said, as he opened the item. “Let’s move.”

The mayor moved to accept Morales’ recommendation by consensus, over objections by Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, an opponent of the train.

“There should be more transparency,” Rosen Gonzalez said Thursday. “There should have been a better explanation to the public at the meeting. I think that people don’t even realize that we are only moving forward with half the train.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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