Chairman’s pledge ties to game-changing rail opportunity
Written by Michael Lewis on March 4, 2015
Finally, someone in authority has said it: it’s past time to stop studying where to add rail transportation and time to get the money and get rolling.
The man who underlined it was the chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Transit and Mobility Services Committee, Esteban Bovo Jr. As the committee was organizing itself in the face of growing traffic congestion, he pledged to stop talking and find money to add transit.
Everyone is tired of waiting for government – any government – to get moving to get us moving in Miami-Dade. It’s the number-one topic, the way crime was two decades ago and the condo bubble was in the last decade.
Because of a public outcry, officials all talk about getting us moving. But Mr. Bovo was the most concrete, saying that if his committee doesn’t within two years help nail down what transit to build where and then get the funds to do it he’d consider his tenure a failure.
Let’s hear a Bravo for Bovo.
But don’t wait two years to start judging how he and his team are doing. Because in the next two months a watershed project can be the turning point for Miami’s mobility.
The project: bring Tri-Rail downtown. And while that’s heavy rail rather than the light rail that Mr. Bovo and his team are focused on, we can’t afford to miss the pivotal opportunity to get lots of cars off of highways between Miami and Palm Beach and to link our current transit to that rail line.
Unfortunately, we will miss it if we don’t within two months find $69 million to do the job. Tri-Rail operators are counting on the state for $21 million of that, leaving a $48 million gap to fill, whether via a public-private partnership or government funds. Tri-Rail is willing to put up the money, but only if it has firm government sources for repayment.
Now, $48 million isn’t small change. But to a county government that agreed to spend more than 60 times that much on a baseball stadium, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable hurdle.
As Commissioner Bovo and his team seek far more money for either the absolutely vital light rail link between Miami and Miami Beach or a Miami streetcar line, let them both walk and chew gum – bring essential commuter rail to the heart of downtown while finding funds to add light rail that would link to it.
Why does Tri-Rail have such a short window? Because it wants to use the facilities of All Aboard Florida, which is about to start building its own rapid rail link to Orlando. All Aboard has to plan whether to build in the physical needs of Tri-Rail. Once its work starts, All Aboard isn’t going to start its engineering over if we decide later that Tri-Rail has money to play.
Because it has no rail tracks of its own, only recent changes that link two other railways, CSX and the Florida East Coast Railway, make it possible for Tri-Rail to use their tracks to reach downtown. And in downtown Tri-Rail could use All Aboard’s station and infrastructure, though it would still need to spend $69 million itself to make it happen.
Tri-Rail is not the responsibility of the county or the City of Miami or any other local government. So it would be simple for Mr. Bovo or any local leader to say “it’s not my job” to get a commuter rail link to the heart of downtown the way metropolises like New York and Chicago have commuter lines in their heart.
It would be easy to duck the opportunity. But we believe Mr. Bovo when he says in essence to just shut up and do the job.
Achieving the goal will require help, because the committee Mr. Bovo heads can’t spend a penny itself. We won’t guess whether the committee will look to tap bed taxes – geared to grow visitor totals – or create private partnerships or get the City of Miami to kick in community redevelopment funds or creatively work with county administrators to juggle other funding.
But we are certain of this: Mr. Bovo is right that it should take no studies. Getting us all aboard with a link between Tri-Rail and All Aboard in the heart of downtown is a no-brainer. The trick, as always, is the money.
We couldn’t agree more with Mr. Bovo that a funding source for a large light rail project totally within the county is a must within two years. Engrave it in stone and get it done.
Meanwhile, don’t miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make Tri-Rail a game changer and Miami a railroad town again, as it was back in 1896 when a rail connection was the catalyst to grow the community from a few hundred people to a few million.
Don’t study it to death. Just do the job. The clock is ticking to fast track those tracks.