Bring Tri-Rail downtown

Artist rendition shows the Tri-Rail and All Aboard Florida platforms next to Metrorail’s Government Center in downtown Miami.
Artist rendition shows the Tri-Rail and All Aboard Florida platforms next to Metrorail’s Government Center in downtown Miami. Tri-Rail

This community should jump at the opportunity to bring Tri-Rail commuter trains into the heart of Downtown Miami. It should look before it leaps, but leap nonetheless.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is right: “We are not going to ‘car’ our way out of this.” He, along with commission colleague Keon Hardemon, is leading the effort to ease gridlock and ensure that the Tri-Rail extension becomes a reality. Bringing Tri-Rail downtown is one of the best chances yet to get commuters out of their cars, take tourists and business travelers from Miami up to Palm Beach, and beyond. It’s the smart way to accommodate young workers who don’t want or can’t afford a car — and all the expenses that brings. It could also be a boon for Overtown. Finally.

The idea is to build a Tri-Rail station alongside the All Aboard Florida platform now under construction next to the Government Center Metrorail station. All Aboard will take passengers as far north as Orlando eventually. Within two years, all three rail lines would be working in tandem, bringing to life that hot new buzzword used to identify what Miami-Dade’s transit system now lacks — “connectivity.”

The Tri-Rail extension project needs $69 million in public funds by June. The state would pay $20 million, with the county’s Citizens Independent Transit Trust kicking in $8.3 million.

The bulk of the funding, about $40 million, would come from the Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni community redevelopment agencies — CRAs — which support the measure. And they should. Bringing Tri-Rail downtown is precisely the kind of big-picture, game-changing project CRAs were created to fund.

Tri-Rail and other funding partners want the city of Miami to have some skin in the game, too. This will be up for debate at Thursday’s commission meeting, where Mr. Sarnoff will ask the city to work with other funding entities to develop a financial package, including a city contribution, to get the project completed. Mayor Tomás Regalado is dead-set against the $11-million contribution that’s been suggested. He told the Editorial Board that the county is putting in far less, referring to the CITT’s $8.3 million. But that’s not the whole story.

Mr. Regalado fails to take into account that the county is also making a significant contribution via those two CRAs. The city generates about 60 percent of CRA revenue, and the county about 40 percent. This reflects the true make-up of the county’s contribution to Tri-Rail. In addition, the county already has an ongoing $5 million annual commitment to support Tri-Rail’s existing operations.

The mayor threatens to veto the measure, but that can’t be the end of it. He must remain open to a conversation about how best the city can contribute to this project. The city is poised to be the prime beneficiary of the Tri-Rail extension for years to come.

And Overtown could be the biggest winner. The more transit-rich a city, the stronger the real-estate values; the more easily low-income residents can seek and obtain employment up the corridor — and Tri-Rail is offering them a free ride as part of the deal. The economic impact of a Tri-Rail extension on this perpetually striving neighborhood cannot be overstated. This, too, is what should drive city leaders.

Any outright rejection by the mayor would be short-sighted at a time when the city needs a leader of vision — and we know that acting in the city’s best interest is Mr. Regalado’s primary concern.