Passenger rail to Beach under microscope
Written by Scott Blake on July 2, 2014
An executive committee led by a trio of Miami-Dade mayors will tackle the planning and funding of South Florida’s first passenger rail to the beaches during a July 8 meeting.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the Policy Executive Committee’s chairman; Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are to consider preliminary results of a “vehicle technology assessment and financial analysis” for the proposed passenger rail.
County commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Xavier Suarez round out the committee.
A plan for connecting Miami and Miami Beach first came up more than a decade ago but never materialized. Now local elected officials are trying to revive the idea through the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization.
A beach rail, according to Mayor Gimenez and others, is an idea whose time has come. A rail connecting downtown Miami to South Beach via the MacArthur Causeway would help take local commerce and tourism to the next level, as well as providing what promises to be a much-used public service.
“We’re going to have to step up,” Mr. Gimenez said at the committee’s last meeting in April.
The challenge will be finding the hundreds of millions it would cost to fund the project. How costly it proves to be, of course, will involve settling on details such as which type of passenger cars would be used and where the rail exactly would go.
The MPO’s staff and consultants have options for all of that. The MPO has hired Gannett Fleming Inc. to perform the Beach Corridor Connection Study at a cost of $324,702.
The study and related tasks were approved last year the MPO’s Governing Board, composed largely of county and local elected officials.
“The vehicle assessment consists of an evaluation of technology advancements with respect to light rail/modern streetcar systems, including catenary-free vehicles,” MPO spokeswoman Elizabeth Rockwell wrote in an email Tuesday to Miami Today.
“The financial analysis evaluates the suitability of various funding sources to cover the expected operating and capital expenses for the Beach Corridor project beyond those currently available,” she added.
At the July 8 meeting at Government Center, MPO staff are to provide the committee with “the necessary information and analysis” for the members to discuss and formulate any recommendations, according to Ms. Rockwell.
Eventually, moving beyond the study phase and into the actual work will be a key point for the proposal, as last time much money was spent on studies and plans and nothing became of it for financial and political reasons.
The failures of the past were due in part to a lack of support in Miami Beach, but Mayor Levine has said he wants to change that.
At the committee’s April meeting, Mayor Gimenez said he was heartened to hear from consultants that the rail line could cost as little as $532 million, plus $22 million a year to operate and maintain. Even with track extensions and other enhancements, the total probably would be well under $1 billion.
Mr. Gimenez has said a beach rail link would be important not only for Miami-Dade but for much of the state, perhaps indicating that local officials will seek substantial state funding or other assistance. Local tax dollars also would be used, he added, but federal funding seems unlikely.
Ideally, the mayor has said, the rail link could be accomplished through a public-private partnership, perhaps modeled after the PortMiami tunnel project.
In that project, a contractor was selected to build and operate the tunnel using private funds, with the contractor receiving “availability payments” from government at different stages of the project.