Beach mayor wants convention tax to build rail link to mainland
By Sherri C. Ranta
Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin is seeking county convention development tax dollars to help fund a proposed light rail transit link between the Beach and the City of Miami.
Mr. Kasdin, who also sits on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, will address that board today (4/26) to discuss the possibility of using some of the tourism tax as a future source of money for light rail "after present and currently contemplated obligations are taken care of."
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees county transportation issues, earlier this year set aside about $1.5 million for a feasibility study of a downtown-to-Miami Beach light-rail connection.
Mr. Kasdin said he wants to ensure the study will "look at CDT as a possible funding source in the future.
"When the tax was created in 1988, a light rail system was contemplated, specifically," he said.
On Tuesday the Miami-Dade County Commission said it will meet today (4/26) to discuss all possible uses of the convention development tax - including the light rail option.
In a March 30 letter to Metropolitan Planning Organization Secretariat Jose-Luis Mesa, Mr. Kasdin detailed a state statute stating the tax "may be used to acquire and construct an inter-city light rail transportation system... which shall provide a means to transport persons to and from the largest existing publicly owned convention center in the county."
The Miami Beach Convention Center is the largest publicly owned convention center in the county. Miami Beach generates about 40% annually of the tax, or about $12 million of $30 million collected countywide. County officials expect the amount collected to increase in the coming years.
Officials representing Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County are now negotiating an amendment to a 1996 interlocal agreement that spelled out a distribution formula for the tax. The amendment would increase the Beach's share of money from the convention development tax and was proposed in light of other recent proposals for use of the money.
In March, the county agreed to allow some of the money collected from the community development tax in the future to be used to pay for a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins. A stadium financing plan now under discussion in the state legislature calls for about $120 million over 40 years to come from the county tax with the rest proposed to come from a state sales-tax rebate and City of Miami parking surcharges.
In light of those ongoing discussions about apportionment of the tax money, Mr. Kasdin said, now is "probably the best time to bring the matter up" because he is looking to "the future use of the tax, beyond the stadium and the convention center."
Another reason to bring the matter to the Metropolitan Planning Organization this month is the impending award of the light rail study - known as the Miami-Miami Beach Transportation Corridor Study - to private consultants. A selection committee is scheduled to meet May 9 and May 21 to review proposals from the six firms applying to do the report and make a recommendation that will be forwarded to the full board, Mr. Mesa said.
The study, financed at about $1.5 million, will address issues such as routes, cost, ridership, number of stops, environmental impact and the types of light rail that could be used, he said.
Mr. Mesa said the six respondents, all representing sub-consultants, are American Consulting Engineers, Daniel Mann Johnson & Mendenhall Inc., Metric Engineering Inc., Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc., Parsons Transportation Group Inc. and Pierre & Gauthier Engineering Consultants Inc.
Once awarded, the study is expected to be complete in about 18 months, officials said.
Michael Taplin, chairman of the Light Rail Transit Association based in Bristol, England, defined light rail as "flexible mode that fits between the bus and the heavy metro or conventional railway and can behave like either of them."
Miami Beach Transportation Management Director Joseph Johnson describes light rail characteristics as having a low noise level, using electric power or overhead wires. He said the systems are able to maneuver tight turns and steep grades, have a capacity of 120-160 passengers per car and offer amenities such as air-conditioning.
Mr. Johnson said the city is an ideal candidate for the system because of a dense population accustomed to using mass transit - the Beach has the highest ridership levels on county buses - and a booming tourist population that would benefit from the convenience of mass transit.
With parking at a premium on the Beach, a light rail system would alleviate a shortage of parking spaces, he said.
Possible routes that have been discussed include the MacArthur Causeway or Julia Tuttle Causeway to the Beach. Once on the Beach, routes could include Alton Road, Fifth Street and Washington Avenue.
A trolley system, using overhead lines, operated on Miami Beach from the 1920s to 1939.