Miami-Dade planners face one-year delay on airport rail-link project
By Shannon Pettypiece
A Metrorail extension that would link the public transportation system to Miami International Airport could be delayed another year unless Miami-Dade County's Metropolitan Planning Organization breaks from its August recess to consider and approve plans.
A 2.5-mile link between Earlington Heights Station, at State Route 112 and Northwest 22nd Street, and a proposed $1.3 billion transportation hub near the airport must be approved by the Miami-Dade County planning board before Congress can review the project for funding. The project must be filed with Congress by Aug. 28 to be reviewed this year.
County planners expect the federal government to provide $400 million for the project - half of its cost. Danny Alvarez, executive director of Miami-Dade County's Office of Public Transportation Management, said there could be less money available next year from the federal government.
Barbara Carey-Shuler, chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners, said the planning board did not have enough time for public debate at last week's meeting.
"We understand the federal government is doing everything it can to knock off projects, and they would love to knock us off," Ms. Carey-Shuler said. "But you've put us in the position of having to meet a deadline right now."
The planning board is considering having a special meeting in August with only 11 of its 21 members, but many said they would be on vacation until September, Ms. Carey-Shuler said.
The board wants to address an alternative plan that would be cheaper and not interfere with Jones Boatyard, which is planning to expand into a megayacht complex, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said.
Jose Bared, a co-owner of Jones Boatyard, said he has been trying to stop the route proposed by the transportation office because it would clog the river with construction and the noise would bother the crews living on yachts he services.
"I have been behind the scenes talking to people I need to talk to," Mr. Bared said. "I have over $100 million in yachts in my facility. That is like Gables Estates. Do you think the county would approve a Metrorail going over their homes?"
Commissioner Barreiro and Mr. Bared have suggested a route that would cross the river at 36th Street instead of the transportation office's preferred 33rd Street route.
Mr. Alvarez said a rail connector further upstream from 33rd Street would interfere with airplanes' glide plans.
The proposed link would accommodate millions of international visitors who are accustomed to using public transportation and would provide easier access to various parts of the city, said Bill Talbert, chief executive of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
City of Miami Transportation Coordinator Clark Turner said he is frustrated that the project could be further delayed.
"The City of Miami is very disappointed that the project seems to have encountered another delay after all the years of waiting for funding."