Expanded Tri-Rail, bus-rail links between Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties key to area success
By Jacquelyn Weiner
Improving tri-county transportation is crucial to South Florida's success, business leaders say, but it's no overnight task.
Ongoing initiatives include expanding Tri-Rail's reach and building a "seamless" bus-rail tri-county transportation system.
"We're all connected," said Ralph A. Marrinson, chairman of the South Florida Regional Business Alliance. "We all share the same labor markets, the same suppliers, everything."
The biggest challenge for tri-county transportation, he said, is coordinating a "seamless" system including ground-transportation providers that connects Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Right now, he said, areas of the region remain unconnected.
You can't catch a bus from Miami-Dade into Palm Beach County, he pointed out.
"We've got to work smarter and work together," Mr. Marrinson said.
One big step toward uniting the regions kicked off within the past year, he said, as the South Florida Regional Business Alliance has expanded involvement to the greater tri-county business community.
It had previously been composed of representatives from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council of Palm Beach County Inc. and the Broward Workshop, Mr. Marrinson said.
"We recognize that there are people that are not in those institutions," he said. "We're bringing some good talent to the table."
One recent sign of positive progress is bus service between Fort Lauderdale and downtown Miami using the I-95 express lanes, which began in the past few months, said Barry Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to helping alleviate congestion, he said, it is a step in the right direction.
"Miami is the anchor to the South Florida marketplace, but business is done across county lines," Mr. Johnson said. "Quite frankly, now when people think of Miami they think of all of South Florida."
Yet to market South Florida effectively, tri-county transportation development is key, said Mike Jones, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Palm Beach Inc.
"If you can't move people and goods easily and quickly within your market area… businesses that can or want to expand are going to choose not to come here," Mr. Jones said. "It's going to be a deterrent."
Most of the market areas South Florida competes with to draw in business have similar transportation challenges he said, so "it's critical for our region to continue to expand and improve our transportation backbone so that we remain competitive."
Connecting the region is more important "the further south you go," Mr. Jones said.
But most isolated in South Florida is northern Palm Beach County, he said.
"The fact is Tri-Rail doesn't extend into Palm Beach County," Mr. Jones said. "A large portion of Palm Beach… is not served at all by any form of commuter rail."
Like Mr. Marrinson and Mr. Johnson, he emphasized the importance of collaboration among the three counties' business communities.
Lack of unity, he said, may have cost South Florida the first segment of high-speed rail.
High-speed rail connecting Tampa to Orlando has secured federal funding and is on line to be completed before a Miami-Orlando route.
"My perspective is that there is a better case to be made for high-speed rail connecting to the southern part of the state," Mr. Jones said.
Some 40% of the state's population resides in South Florida, he said.
"On the other hand, I think the business communities in Orlando and Tampa have done a better job of organizing themselves; building community support," Mr. Jones said. "That's why they were chosen to be the first leg."