Panel puts aside promise to voters, OKs rail car buys
By Lou Ortiz
With $401 million going for new Metrorail cars, there probably won't be much money to fund other projects in Miami-Dade County's People's Transportation Plan, officials say.
The Citizens Independent Transportation Trust on Monday agreed in an 8-4 vote to amend a county ordinance that will allow for purchase of the railcars using the half-cent transportation tax. The trust had rejected the matter 6-5 on March 26, holding fast to the ordinance that bars spending those tax funds on existing service.
On March 18, the county commission agreed to replace Miami Transit's aging fleet with the tax funds, triggering the need for the trust's vote.
Trust Chairman Myles Moss said some projects may go unfunded because "there may not be many funds available.
"There isn't going to be enough money to do four [Metrorail] corridors" extensions, said Mr. Moss. "We'll be lucky to do three."
One of the three includes the $1.3 billion North Corridor, a 9.5-mile line from the existing Martin Luther King Jr. Station at Northwest 62nd Street to Northwest 215th Street just south of the Florida Turnpike. In February, the Federal Transit Administration downgraded the North Corridor extension, in part, because of current and future concerns about the county maintaining the system.
Mr. Moss explained that the Trust was faced with the prospect of the federal government not funding the Orange Line extension if the county couldn't maintain the existing Metrorail line.
"We were stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Trust member William Sancho. "We hope and pray that the county manager and Miami-Dade Transit will come up with a very good plan that the Feds will sign off on, and purchasing these cars is a positive step toward building the Orange Line."
Mr. Sancho said trust members were struck with "sticker shock" over the cost of the new railcars. The panel had agreed in 2004 to use levy funds to refurbish current cars for $188 million.
The county commission backtracked in its March meeting from its 2004 vote, when commissioners agreed along with the trust to rehab 136 railcars for $188 million.
The commission acted after the transit agency failed to overhaul the 1984 fleet, and after spending $5.4 million on consultants to come up with the rehab plan.
But the project stalled. Bids for the work exceeded county staff estimates, climbing to $300 million by 2006. After another study last year for $3.5 million, staff proposed in March to buy new railcars for $401 million, a price that is likely to rise as bids are prepared and submitted over the next one to two years.
County staff defended the proposal, saying it would include a total of 198 railcars — 62 for the anticipated Metrorail expansion — and that it would result in future savings of $40 million to $140 million. New cars have a life of 30 years versus 20 years for rehabbed cars.
"People got very philosophical about the original intent of the trust," Mr. Sancho said, but "the vote boiled down to a business decision."