Agency to weigh Bay Link rapid transit linking downtown Miami and Beach
By Sherri C. Ranta
Transportation policy makers could change the future of Miami-to-Miami Beach commuting in late September when they review preliminary results of a rapid transit study known as Bay Link.
Metropolitan Planning Organization members are expected to consider a rapid bus or a light rail system that uses the MacArthur Causeway as a possible rapid transit link between the two cities, said Larry Foutz, senior project manager for Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, the engineering firm conducting the study.
If an endorsed option is selected by the board - known as the locally preferred alternative - engineers could begin phase two of the $1.5 million study to include a final environmental impact statement and engineering work.
The board will consider positive and negative impacts of the proposed systems, he said, such as loss of on-street parking, congestion, convenience and future growth.
Engineers will also present estimates for capital, operation and maintenance costs, ridership and possible routes.
Preliminary estimates show capital costs for light rail here could cost as much as $410.2 million, officials said.
Operation and maintenance costs could reach $11 million annually based on 2001 costs.
A dedicated local funding source for the project would be needed, Mr. Foutz said.
The September presentation follows months of study and presentations to a citizen advisory committee, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the cities of Miami Beach and Miami. The Metropolitan Planning Organization is scheduled to hold a public hearing before making a decision, Mr. Foutz said, but the date has not been set.
Engineers had wanted to present preliminary findings to the Metropolitan Planning Organization in July. That meeting was delayed as officials awaited feedback from state and federal agencies.
Local officials must also share the collected feedback with the Federal Transit Administration for final review.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization hearing and meeting will follow, Mr. Foutz said. "We hope to be before the board Sept. 26."
Metropolitan Planning Organization officials are expected to review written recommendations from a number of community groups and municipal governments, he said.
"We've gone through an awful lot of effort to get as many people as possible familiar with this project," Mr. Foutz said, "so that if problems come up, they come up early.
"There's a method to our madness. There's nothing worse than having a bulldozer out there and a lawsuit stopping it."
The board of directors for the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce would not endorse the Bay Link project, but did choose a preferred route the project could use to run through the city.
Of three routes proposed, the group chose an Alton Road route running up to the Miami Beach Convention Center, said Bruce Singer, chamber executive director.
"They did not give an overall endorsement to the project," he said, "No one ever got to funding or costs. Until these factors are determined, the chamber was not in a position to endorse the Bay Link project as a whole."
Residents and business people alike, he said, are concerned adding a light rail transit system to Washington Avenue would bring more congestion to the busy road. Washington Avenue is one of the main arteries in the other two Miami Beach routes under consideration.
In a resolution supporting the Alton Road alternative, the chamber urged the Metropolitan Planning Organization to move forward and authorize a final environmental impact statement.