Funding to bring Tri-Rail downtown advances
Written by Lidia Dinkova on March 11, 2015
The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority wants Miami-Dade County to fund about $8.3 million of the cost to bring Tri-Rail to downtown Miami.
Tri-Rail is a commuter train that links Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. In Miami-Dade, the trains stop in the west. A recent push to expand east and have trains come downtown hinges on nailing down $69 million to fund the infrastructure.
Most recently, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he supports Tri-Rail service downtown.
“It needs to happen,” Mayor Gimenez told Miami Today on Monday. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s a great use of public funds to leverage private dollars.”
Tri-Rail expansion would piggyback on infrastructure being built privately by All Aboard Florida, the express passenger train to link Miami and Orlando. Plans are for Tri-Rail trains to pull into All Aboard’s downtown Miami station and run on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in east Miami-Dade.
For that to happen, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority must solidify funds for infrastructure that Tri-Rail needs, said Jack Stephens, authority executive director. That includes tracks for Tri-Rail trains at All Aboard Florida’s station.
“It’s a proportional share,” Mr. Stephens said. “They [All Aboard Florida] pay their share, we pay our share. Anything strictly for Tri-Rail, Tri-Rail would pay that 100%.”
Specifically, the $8.3 million requested would come from a voter-approved half-cent sales surtax paid countywide. The surtax is part of the People’s Transportation Plan.
Charles Scurr, executive director of the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust, the appointed body that oversees surtax spending, said using the surtax to help Tri-Rail expand does fit with the original mission of the People’s Transportation Plan.
“This is consistent with what that fund should be used for,” he said. “This is not diverting money. This is helping stimulate those projects.”
Mr. Scurr added that his organization has enough in hand for the $8.3 million request.
The regional authority is also on track to secure about $21 million – $3.1 million from its own coffers and about $17.9 million from the state, Mr. Stephens said.
The $3.1 million would go to install safety technology on Tri-Rail locomotives. A federal order requires trains with positive train control – technology that monitors and controls movement.
The state’s contribution would cover the $1 million access fee for the regional authority to use the Florida East Coast Railway corridor as well as tracks Tri-Rail would use at All Aboard’s station. Tri-Rail and All Aboard trains would pull into separate platforms and on separate tracks.
Even with this financing, the regional authority would still need $40 million more. The source that has been widely discussed is tax increment financing from Miami community redevelopment agencies that would repay bonded debt.
As for the $8.3 million, Mr. Stephens said: “It would be great that the county’s contribution could be a grant up front, so it would not have to be bonding and incurred debt.”