Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail, but how?
Written by Catherine Lackner on December 6, 2016
Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail on the island, but if, how and when it will connect to the mainland remains to be seen.
Miami Beach “has been moving forward assertively to advance the first phase,” which is service within the island, said Charles Scurr, executive director of the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, at a Nov. 16 meeting. The trust is charged with overseeing the half-penny sales tax voters approved for transit in 2002.
“The first phase is moving quickly and do we anticipate action items coming to this board in the spring. We’ll continue to update you in the next couple of months,” he told trust directors.
“This has been in the planning stages for a very long time,” Kathie Brooks, Miami Beach assistant city manager, told trust directors. In fact, it was first made part of a long-term transportation plan in 1969, then again studied in 2004 and 2015.
Light rail was always considered, and then, in 2015, modern streetcars that would not have overhead wires were added, she said. “Those two have begun to merge.”
The service would run in a circuit from Washington Avenue and Fifth Street to Alton Road and 17th Street. “We did start out looking at phases one and two,” which would include a connection to the mainland, she said, “but we have narrowed it to begin phase one, because it’s feasible and constructible with existing sources of funding.”
The budget will be $245 million for phase one, with operating costs pegged at $7 million per year. Miami Beach will fund 62.5%, Miami-Dade County and the trust 25%, and the Florida Department of Transportation 12.5%, subject to approval by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, she said.
If all goes well, a final environmental report could be done next April and a final price negotiated with a contractor by the end of 2017, she added.
When conducting neighborhood studies, “the single biggest feedback we got was the need for a connection across the causeway,” Ms. Brooks said.
“I see there’s been some community resistance that’s emerging, and that’s to be expected,” said trust director Paul Schwiep. “If you don’t have 10% to 15% of the population that is unhappy, then you’re not pushing transit enough.” Fortunately, he said, the city administration won’t give in to the naysayers.
“There were concerns raised about integrating your proposal into the larger Baylink system,” Mr. Schwiep told Ms. Brooks. “I know you’re hoping to bring the county along in your process. What does that look like?”
“We’re trying to make sure that whatever we do, the system will be interoperable,” she replied. “The technology will be able to come across the causeway. The basics are the tracks and the power supply. We required that in our proposal” for a private operator to run the beach part of the system, she said.
“As far as bringing the county along, we’re in constant contact with Alice Bravo [director of the county department of Transportation and Public Works] and Monica Cejas [Miami-Dade Transit senior professional engineer], to try and expedite as much as possible. They’re working hard to come up with a funding plan. The word we hear is that the project development and environmental study will be done in early 2017. We’re hoping, as we move along next year, we will get commitments as to what their timelines are.”
Meanwhile, a Tuesday email from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said “we need to mobilize residents and visitors alike through a smart and efficient light rail system that connects all of Miami Beach to the mainland to reduce the number of vehicles clogging our causeways and entering our city.
“Miami Beach has signaled that we are ready to bring smart light rail to our city. We would be ‘shovel ready’ when [Miami-Dade] County moves forward with a long-awaited Beach Corridor transportation program, commonly called Bay Link.
“However, it is important that the facts are made clear in this process. We will not sign any agreement that commits financial resources to the plan until we have full commitments from Miami-Dade County that they are willing partners in this endeavor and that they are fully committed to a real connection … our taxpayers alone should not bear the full responsibility of building a rail corridor that connects Miami Beach to the City of Miami. But, we know that for it to be a successful system, connectivity throughout Miami Beach and key points in Miami are essential,” the mayor’s email continued.
“I will ensure that a transparent process through open dialogue continues and that ZERO tax dollars are committed until we have the full support from our local, state and federal partners and then (and only then) will this vision be brought back to the commission