County To Be Asked To Approve Testing Of Bay Shuttle Service
Written by Dan Dolan on January 18, 2007
By Dan Dolan
Metropolitan Planning Organization chief Jose-Luis Mesa said last week that he will ask Miami-Dade County commissioners to greenlight a test of a privately operated water shuttle commuter service on Biscayne Bay later this month.
If the commissioners give the OK at their Jan. 25 session, Mr. Mesa said, the Metropolitan Planning Organization will pick a company to operate the service and hammer out contract details, including a financial package, schedules and equipment. Once talks are complete, the entire proposal would be submitted for commissioners’ approval in April.
"We want a turnkey project with private funding," said Jesus Guerra, a transportation systems manager who is coordinating the ferry project for the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees mass transit issues in Miami-Dade. "We want nonstop express routes from Haulover Park and downtown Miami in the north and from Matheson Park to downtown in the south."
Mr. Guerra said he recently investigated other potential stops for the 99-passenger water shuttles and found parking problems ruled out the Omni area, Aventura, Bayfront Park and Florida International University. He said weekend traffic could make parking a problem at Haulover and Matheson parks, too.
"That’s why we’re looking at this as a Monday-Friday commuter shuttle service," Mr. Guerra said. "If the pilot project works, we’ll go back later and look at weekend service and alternate routes. But for now, we want to find a way to ease congestion on our roadways."
Even if the commission acts next week, Mr. Mesa said, a water shuttle service is at least two years away. But he said the proposal offers the quickest fix for traffic-weary commuters.
"A rail line takes 12 years to plan and execute," Mr. Mesa said. "Bus service takes about six years. So the water service is a very attractive and time-efficient solution."
No public cash has been earmarked for the service, although a $3 million federal grant may be available, Mr. Guerra said. And it isn’t clear how much the county would have to kick in, he said. Funding and passenger fares would be a key part of any contract with an operator, Mr. Guerra said.
"There are still some concerns about funding, environmental issues, docking facilities and travel time," Mr. Guerra said. "These are very sensitive areas, but we have to make a decision one way or the other so we can move on."
A shuttle boat commuter service has been under consideration in various forms for at least a decade. The latest proposal, according to county officials, is as close as it has ever come to reality.