Supporters, opponents debate streetcar proposal
By Catherine Lackner
Plans are rolling forward for a Miami streetcar line to connect Government Center downtown to the Civic Center and the Design District. Tracks would be set in the pavement, and streetcars would draw power from overhead lines.
At a public hearing last week "we had a good turnout, about 90 in attendance," said Lilia Medina, assistant transportation coordinator for the City of Miami. "We had a variety of points of view expressed, and it was about evenly mixed between supporters and opponents."
Some civic and consumer groups, including the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association, have objected, saying the $200 million project wouldn't attract riders and would duplicate nearby MetroRail and Metromover lines.
At last week's hearing, "it wasn't predominantly cost issues that were discussed," Ms. Medina said. "Some people felt that other technologies would be more efficient. One person brought up the subject of the Coral Gables trolley that seems to be working."
If the project were approved, it probably would be funded by a 50/50 match between City of Miami and Florida Department of Transportation funds, she said. Federal funding might also be available.
Streetcars are light rail transit powered by quiet electric motors, city documents say. They are lighter and less expensive to run that vehicles powered by an internal combustion engine, such as buses or trolleys, the documents say. There also appears to be a cachet to riding a trolley that doesn't extend to its more conventional cousins, the Metro bus or MetroRail, they assert.
Between 1925 and 1928, more than 11 million passengers boarded streetcars in Miami, according to a fact sheet at the streetcar Web site. The system was abandoned in 1940, but city sources say it's time to revive it.
"Miami is undergoing spectacular growth," the streetcar Web site said. "Since 2001, the city has witnessed a 10% increase in population. Estimates suggest that, by the end of this decade, Miami's population may expand as much as 30%."
With more than 60 development projects in various stages of construction, permitting or planning within a quarter-mile of the planned streetcar line, "the city must explore non-automobile options to accommodate the increasing transportation needs," the Web site said. "The streetcar will help relieve the daily use of automobiles and the demand for parking."
The project is to be presented to the Nov. 9 Miami City Commission meeting, "where we'll be asking for a directive on the next steps," Ms. Medina said. "We will be asking the city manager for direction to go forward."
If the project were approved in concept, industry workshops would announce guidelines for proposals so that potential bidders could learn about the project's scope and how to become a part of it. Workshops on financing, procurement, service delivery and qualifications would follow.
"We also want to proceed with a more defined financial plan that conforms to a cohesive approach for delivery of the project," Ms. Medina said. "It's our detailed plan to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain this project."
She and her staff are to appear before the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which helps assign priorities to traffic projects, Dec. 7. The streetcar project is included in the Miami-Dade County long-term Transportation Improvement Plan, but advocates would like to see it raised higher on the priority list.