Can’t afford to miss these rides

MASS TRANSIT: A rendering of the new Miami Downtown Central Station, currently under construction.
MASS TRANSIT: A rendering of the new Miami Downtown Central Station, currently under construction. EL NUEVO HERALD

In 2002, Miami-Dade County voters adopted a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects and created the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust to make sure those projects actually came to fruition. The public expected improvements. While there have been setbacks, we are presented now with two remarkable and transformative opportunities to dramatically improve mass-transit options in the county.

The first is the Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link. Imagine commuter rail trains running between All Aboard Florida’s new downtown Miami Central Station and cities in north Miami-Dade including Hialeah, Opa-locka and Miami Gardens all the way to Broward and Palm Beach within two years.

This project will also pave the way for the next phase of commuter rail — the Tri-Rail Coastal Link — which will provide rail service to the northeast corridor with stations in the city of Miami at Midtown and 79th Street and the cities of North Miami, North Miami Beach and Aventura. It will integrate Tri-Rail, All Aboard Florida, Metrorail and Metromover into a single transportation complex.

The project includes the track improvements and station platforms needed for Tri-Rail to provide service at the Miami Central Station. The investment of $69 million is proposed to be funded through a collaborative partnership of the state, the county, Miami and the Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni community redevelopment agencies.

Construction of the Central Station has begun, and all of the partners must approve and fund Tri-Rail now or the opportunity might be lost and future generations will wonder how we failed to seize a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Transportation Trust unanimously approved $8.3 million in surtax funding for the county’s share, and it is imperative that the other partners move forward.

The second is the Miami Beach Light Rail Project, a remarkable opportunity to bring light rail service to connect downtown Miami to the beach. Light-rail technology was selected after extensive analysis of transit modes. It is a technology that fits well the needs and the character of the communities it will serve and will provide safe, comfortable and fast mass transit to Miami and Miami Beach, easing congestion on our overburdened causeways.

On March 31, the Project Executive Committee (PEC) for the Beach Link study is scheduled to meet. The PEC is made up of County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and MPO board members Bruno Barreiro and Xavier Suarez, who are also county commissioners. The PEC will consider advancing the project to the next stage — Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) — which will continue design and engineering activities and complete the environmental analysis

The investment for the PD&E effort is estimated at $10 million, to be funded through a collaborative partnership. The state and the Transportation Trust have committed 50 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The remaining 13 percent is proposed to be funded equally by the county and the cities.

Our entire community — our elected leadership, business community, stakeholders and citizens — must work together to support and move these two critical projects forward. There remains much work to do in developing solutions on the other major corridors and that work will continue. Today our community is presented with two transformative opportunities that we must seize.

Paul Schwiep chairs the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust. Charles Scurr is executive director.