Beach rail link partnership?
Written by Scott Blake on April 9, 2014
Downtown Miami and South Beach could get a passenger rail link that’s been discussed for more than a decade in as few as five years if elected officials stand together this time and agree on a way to get the job done, according to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Mr. Gimenez, chairman of an executive committee developing the plan that includes Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, said he’s making the proposed rail along the MacArthur Causeway his administration’s “No. 1 transit project.”
He alluded to it as a way to open up public transportation and commerce between Miami and Miami Beach, the two “anchor” communities of the state’s most populated county and the seventh most populated in the nation.
“This is a very important project, not just for us, but for the state,” Mr. Gimenez said as the committee met last week.
The committee directed consultants to propose options for financing the line at its next meeting, tentatively in June.
After the meeting, Mayor Gimenez said he was encouraged to hear from consultants that the rail line could cost as little as $532 million, plus $22 million a year to operate and maintain it. Even with track extensions or other enhancements, he added, the total probably would be well under $1 billion.
The mayor said he wants to try for a public-private partnership to accomplish the project, similar to the partnership used for construction and future operation of the PortMiami tunnels, slated to open next month.
A partnership could get the proposed rail done in five to eight years, Mr. Gimenez said, while a strictly government project would take considerably longer.
Under a partnership like the tunnel project, officials would pick a contractor to build and operate the rail line using private funds, and the contractor would receive “availability payments” from government at different stages of the project.
Still, Mr. Gimenez said, money for those payments would have to come from local and state governments, as federal funding seems unlikely.
“We’re going to have to step up,” he added.
Passengers on the new line probably would pay fares, producing revenue for the contractor to help recoup its investment or to provide revenue for government to pay the contractor.
To get the process formally rolling, consultants said, $3 million is needed for required studies and the other parts of the “project development phase.” Project officials plan to apply for a federal grant for half the total, while seeking $750,000 from the state and $250,000 each from Miami-Dade County, Miami and Miami Beach.
Mayor Regalado said Miami would be hard-pressed to take $250,000 from reserves, so he asked Mayor Gimenez to see if tourist tax dollars being held by the county, but designated for Miami, could pay the city’s share. Mr. Gimenez said he would try to do it.
Mayor Levine said he will campaign for Miami Beach to provide its $250,000 but city commissioners will have to agree.
“I think we have to do this,” Mr. Levine said. So far, he said, the city hasn’t been “putting our money where our mouth is.”