Port of Miami sidetracks bid for rail link stimulus
By Risa Polansky
When it comes to rail to the Port of Miami, the train isn't leaving the station just yet.
To allow for more strategizing and perhaps a better chance at landing funding later, officials sidetracked plans to go after federal stimulus aid for a rail project they hope now to develop further.
In August, port and Florida East Coast Railway officials revealed they'd be applying for stimulus funds to restore and upgrade direct freight rail access to the seaport.
They envisioned running trains to an existing rail yard in Hialeah, which would serve as an inland port that would keep many container trucks off downtown streets and offer easy access to West Dade warehouses.
To do it with stimulus funds, they would have had to apply last month.
"We were rushing things a bit because there was free money, so to speak, on the table," said Kevin Lynskey, business initiatives manager for the port.
But during the "intensive two-month exercise" of planning to pursue the grant, it became clear more work remains.
"There are just way too many missing pieces. We absolutely love the idea of getting a much stronger relationship between the port and the rail, and very importantly the [Hialeah] intermodal yard," he said. But "the entire scope of the project is pretty broad and will probably take two full years to work out."
The new plan is to pursue other federal money later, when plans are firmer and fewer are vying for a piece of the pie.
The $1.5 billion Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery stimulus program is expected to draw applications totaling $80 billion, Mr. Lynskey said.
Skipping that and going after federal funds later — "we think that's our best shot."
And more time is crucial, said José Gonzalez, vice president for Flagler, the real estate and planning arm tied to the railway.
"We need to plan things out and do it right."
An upgraded rail connection between the seaport and the Flagler-owned Hialeah yard is a "small piece of a bigger picture," Mr. Lynskey said.
An expanded Panama Canal is to open in 2014, making way for some of the world's largest cargo ships.
By then, port officials hope to boast a newly-dredged deep channel to accommodate the vessels and allow more cargo to flow through Miami.
When it gets here, the containers could be headed for West Dade, or Central Florida — or further north to destinations like Atlanta.
"That Atlanta piece at a minimum is going to desire rail," Mr. Lynskey said.
The vision, said Flagler's Mr. Gonzalez, is "about creating some sort of public private partnership, if you will, in anticipation of the Panama Canal widening… The intermodal facility is really the opportunity that we all see in the future of dealing with the growth in volume of these containers."
It's too early to say what needs to be done and how it would work, he said.
But it all comes down to 2014. "That's our end date."
Digging twin tunnels to the Port of Miami is on a similar timeline, though the project is in limbo. The state this week pushed back its Oct. 1 financing deadline to Oct. 8 to allow the City of Miami to finalize a crucial $50 million letter of credit.