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Front Page » Top Stories » Light rail to beach on funding track

Light rail to beach on funding track

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Written by on March 4, 2015

Light rail to beach on funding track

A push to build a light-rail public transportation system between downtown Miami and Miami Beach is often brought up at local meetings.

Officials want an electrically powered light-rail system to run parallel to but yet separate from the MacArthur Causeway. Plans are for both eastbound and westbound rail cars to run on the south side of the causeway.

“Currently the alignment calls for a separate structure on the south side of the MacArthur Causeway, so it would not be within what we know as the MacArthur Causeway,” said José González, transportation director at the City of Miami Beach.

The next step is for a project development and environmental (PD&E) study to be completed.

But not all the funding needed for the study has been secured, Mr. González said.

The study could cost $6 million to $10 million and take about three years, he added.

A PD&E study is needed if officials want to try to win federal funds for the MacArthur Causeway light-rail project.

Ultimately, the study comes up with a preferred alternative for the light-rail system that would mitigate the project’s social and environmental impacts.

Local officials backing the light-rail system have already narrowed down what kind of system they want. The consensus so far has been for an electrically powered system that’s off-wire, meaning it’s not connected to overhead electrical wires but rather to ground embedded electrical wires. They also want the system to run parallel to the MacArthur on a separate right-of-way that’s south of the causeway.

“We know that that’s the preferred technology. We have the preferred alignment,” Mr. González said. “However, these issues have to be further defined, which would be through the PD&E study. It would define any environmental and social impacts to the surrounding environment and it would identify ways of avoiding or mitigating those impacts.… And then the outcome of that effort is a preferred alignment, which has now been refined.”

The proposed light-rail project was formerly referred to as BayLink but more recently it has been officially referred to as the Beach Corridor Transit Connection Project.

While funding sources for the capital cost of the light-rail system haven’t been specifically identified, ideas have been publicly mentioned. Among them is a public-private partnership option, or a P3. The Port Tunnel is the most notable project in Miami-Dade that was funded by a P3.

Al Dotson, a partner at Bilzin Sumberg law firm who has experience in the firm’s government contracting group that deals with P3s among other things, said that a P3 allows governments to secure the immediate funding needed for large-scale projects and then repay the cost, or part of the cost, over time.

“I think that there’s a model that Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami Beach are going to look to for a commuter rail project that successfully used the P3 structure and that is the Denver Eagle P3 project,” Mr. Dotson said.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Colorado, which oversees all or part of eight counties, including Denver, has embarked on a comprehensive mass transit construction project. The Eagle part of the larger FasTracks project is partially funded by a P3.

According to Mr. Dotson, here’s how the RTD structured that P3 funding for the Eagle project: The solicitation was a two-step process that started with a request for qualifications (RFQ) and then proceeded to a request for proposals (RFP).

The firms shortlisted after the RFQ were each given a $1 million incentive of sorts to stay in the game and submit an RFP.

That was the public sector’s way of letting applicant know “that the government body is equally invested in the process because otherwise the government basically spends little to no money in comparison to the developer community,” Mr. Dotson said.

Submitting a response to an RFP or an RFQ could be quite costly.

In Colorado, the public funding for the mass transit projects is to be repaid by a 0.4% sales surtax approved by voters.

But, Mr. Dotson added, that’s just one P3 structure of many possibilities.

“When you talk about P3s, there’s a multitude of layers of financing,” he said. “The beauty of the P3 methodology is that it allows for creativity, it allows for layering of funding, and it allows for debt as well as equity funding.”

The debt funding could be paid back through a variety of sources, included a sales surtax, tax-increment financing, and even fare or toll revenues.

“There’re many different types of P3 structures,” Mr. Dotson said.

And as work on the proposed light-rail connecting Miami and Miami Beach chugs forward, the city has taken steps to alleviate traffic on the MacArthur Causeway in the meantime. The Miami Beach City Commission has approved legislation calling for enhanced bus service to begin running across the MacArthur.

“We are looking at one- to two-year implementation,” Mr. González said.

The city has engaged a consultant to do a study that’s required for the enhanced bus service, he added. Initial plans call for buses to run on the shoulder of the causeway as a way to bypass vehicular traffic. Once the buses get to Miami Beach, they might travel on an exclusive or semi-exclusive lane on Washington Avenue. A semi-exclusive lane would mean that the buses would run within a bus-only lane during peak traffic hours.

Enhanced bus service means that the buses would run frequently, Mr. González added.

“This short-term project is a priority initiative for the city,” he said.

Plans call for the enhanced bus services, and ultimately the light rail, to reach the Miami Beach Convention Center.

10 Responses to Light rail to beach on funding track

  1. anon

    March 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I’m all for dedicated bus lanes in the shoulders, but will these buses shut down the bike lanes? What about when venetian causeway is closed for 9 months or more? How will people bike from the beach to the mainland?

  2. DC Copeland

    March 4, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Surprised to see that the idea of putting mass transit on the southside of the MacArthur has finally been adopted. This solution had been suggested as early as 2007 here: http://www.miami-beachmonorail.blogspot.com/ It was summarily ignored because the solution is attached to… monorails. In that plan, monorails running from downtown to the MB convention center ran at grade along the southside of the MacArthur. Over those 8-years, no one admitted the “official” plans of running light rail on a lane of traffic across the MacArthur was a bad idea, that it would become part of the problem by taking up a traffic lane.

    Now we can only hope that the powers-that-be see that running light rail at grade along Miami Beach’s narrow streets is still not the answer. Aside from the obvious (the trains will take up traffic lanes and cause more problems than before) the below grade electrical systems will be subject to the corrosive effects of salt water and salt air.

    The solution lies in the air (on rubber tires riding a concrete beam that will be quieter and hold up better against the ravages of a salt air environment). Perhaps in time the prevalent point of view will shift yet again to the common sense solution first proposed eight long years ago.

    Until then, millions of dollars will be spent on yet another study.

  3. Malcolm Moyse Jr.

    March 4, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I like the Idea of light rail going to the beach, but we need to invest and build it right. Miami Dade County has too many modes of transportation and most of them do not coordinate with each other. We need to stop trying to reinvent the wheel and focus on creating a resolution to solve problems as a whole.
    The county should work on a plan to expand Metrorail period. We need two lines, a loop line, to connect Metrorail to the beach and a light rail that circulate the beach.The metro rail will have 3 station ( Alton and 5th, Alton and Lincoln, Mercy hospital) that will connect a light-rail that would circulate Miami Beach.
    the Metrorail would runs east along the MacArthur causeway,north along Alton road then back east across I-195. We need to build the metrorail underground and the light rail at street level. We can’t use the excuse (were at sea level or have high water tables). We built a tunnel to connect the port, and Muti- Millionaires are building high-rises with deep underground parking all across South Florida.the technology is there. Build a tunnel on land and sink it to the bay floor. San-Francisco did it with the BART, we can do it here. Also We need a to focus on building a dedicated pedestrian path on the south side of both causeways. If we do build baylink maybe it should be a liner park 40’wide with barrier separating the rail and pathway.
    Sorry I like to think big.

  4. James Sullivan

    March 4, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Imagine that. Denver, the “Mile High City”, in the middle of nowhere, is miles and miles ahead of the “Magic City” and “The Capital of Latin America” . They have a plan in place, are implementing it, and have a funding plan, while our leaders in Miami still have their head stuck up their rear end while we are choking in traffic each and every day. Where is the leadership in this town.

  5. DC Copeland

    March 5, 2015 at 11:32 am

    It’s in Denver.

  6. Demetrius Villa

    March 5, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    I would believe that American Maglev Technology also has a similar proposal. Why would you just stick to something that is going to be phased out anyway when we can work with a company that has this technology and built it already?
    http://american-maglev.com/

  7. DC Copeland

    March 6, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Please delete my earlier comment due to spelling errors.

    Demetrius, American Maglev will have to become proactive with Miami-Dade County if they expect the decision-makers to even consider their low cost approach to solving our mass trans woes. I would suggest they fly the decision-makers up to Georgia so they can see, learn, and ride their full-scale maglev. It might be a smart investment on their part. Or not. Our crazy burg isn’t famous for electing visionary leaders. But if it’s a free junket (meals and open bar included) they might just get some of them to take that ride.

  8. Samuel

    March 6, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Why waste $6 million dollars on a study that leads nowhere? Where is this train going to end up on the congested Beach? Will it be running up and down bumper to bumper Collins Ave? How will people get to their ultimate destination when they get off the train?

    Oops! I guess millions of tax dollars will buy answers and nitpicking details.

    I support any solution to the traffic nightmare on Miami Beach but I am tired of wasting taxpayers’ hard earned dollars on deadend pipe dreams that make consultants rich.

  9. Demetrius Villa

    March 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Hey DC Copeland,
    I’m already working on that. They are about to groundbreak in Orlando this year and I have spoken to the president of the company myself, surveyed FIU students, and created a video to push the idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfhPOMI4i5c

  10. DC Copeland

    March 9, 2015 at 7:11 am

    Nicely done, Demetrius, nicely done. Hopefully all of your hard work will pay off.
    DC

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