County in danger of losing federal funds for airport rail link
By Shannon Pettypiece
Miami-Dade County stands to lose $400 million in federal funds if it cannot find $220 million for a rail link between Miami International Airport and its proposed transportation hub.
The county has until fall to come up with funds in order to keep the $1.3 billion hub - or Miami Intermodal Center - on track, transportation officials said.
"If the county is unable to come forward with this contribution, the entire program would fail, and that risk is real," said Ric Katz, spokesman for the intermodal center. "If any major element is not there, the whole funding package falls apart."
The light-rail connector, referred to as MIA Mover, is to link the airport to the hub. The center is to be between State Road 836 and the airport.
Money for the connector was to come from airport revenues. But Aviation Director Angela Gittens said last week that the airport can't afford its part of the connector, putting the project on hold unless the county can pick up the tab.
"Construction was supposed to have started this year and we haven't. We are keeping it on hold until revenues are up," Ms. Gittens said. "It is just a lower priority when you are looking at trying to avoid pricing yourself out of the market."
Ms. Gittens, meanwhile, said the airport has scaled back several major projects and is rethinking plans for a new terminal for financially troubled American Airlines.
Assistant Aviation Director Narinder Jolly said it will be three or four years before the airport can afford the connector.
Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jose Abreu wrote May 22 to former county manager Steve Shiver that the county could lose $400 million in federal loans for the hub if the connector is delayed. The state has spent $260 million of those loans.
"We won approval from the US (Department of Transportation) of over $400 million in direct federal loans, premised on a commitment to complete an integrated program of transportation improvements, including the MIA Mover," Mr. Abreu wrote. "If we do not proceed timely with all elements of the program, our federal support may be withdrawn, leaving the department with no ability to recover expenditures already made."
If construction on the connector doesn't begin in two years, another piece of the project - a rental-car facility - will fall through, he wrote.
But Mr. Katz said last week that construction on the rental-car facility is to begin shortly and he's optimistic the county will find a solution because it has authorized site work.
"The department is confident that the county will resolve its issues over the funding of the MIC-MIA Connector and is confident enough for Secretary John Martinez to authorize funds to allow us to start the work on the foundation for the rental-car facility," Mr. Katz said.
County Manager George Burgess responded July 16 to Mr. Abreu's letter by saying officials are looking for funds for the rail link between the planned intermodal center and airport.
"We are looking at ways in which the county may be able to provide bridge funding as a way to achieve this goal," Mr. Burgess wrote, adding that officials plan to address concerns this week.
Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson said Tuesday they plan to find temporary funds for the rail link by September. He said they are unsure where money will come from but will be discussing options in the next 14 days.
"We all agree the MIC project is an important and valuable project," Mr. Johnson said. "The real question is one of timing."