Planners sidetrack streetcar plan
Plans for a streetcar in Miami’s urban core were temporarily sidetracked after a county transportation board postponed supporting the project.
The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) last week deferred an endorsement as board members were supportive and yet concerned the streetcar project might roadblock other planned transportation modes.
“I am still very excited about this project as long as it doesn’t compete with all of the other projects that’s in the hopper,” said board member Audrey Edmonson.
For one, Miami-Dade is working toward countywide bus rapid transit. The county and Miami Beach are collaborating on a downtown-Miami Beach transit link, referred to as Bay Link. And recently, a proposal called for study of a gondola connecting major destinations such as Marlins Stadium and Florida International University.
“I think that what we need to do is we really need to have an opportunity to sit down and look comprehensively at our transportation system,” said board member Dennis Moss. “What’s happening now is we have those bits and pieces floating around.”
The MPO, established under a federal requirement, oversees countywide transit projects. Its backing of transportation proposals by municipalities is, for the most part, imperative for the future of these projects. The MPO lists future transit projects in order of priority.
While the City of Miami’s request stopped short of asking for the streetcar to be a top priority, the city wanted the MPO to urge the Florida Department of Transportation to fund $100 million, or 50%, of the streetcar’s projected capital cost.
“If we are going to have a $100 million for a streetcar system there, then we would like to have $100 million for the City of Miami Beach because we’d like a streetcar system,” said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who also sits on the MPO board. “Why are we putting the cart before the horse? The biggest regional issue that we have right now that affects our pocketbook is the MacArthur Causeway.”
Bay Link is to run over the MacArthur to alleviate causeway traffic. The project’s funding and logistics haven’t been worked out.
“When we are having conversations about transportation we get really territorial,” said MPO Vice Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert III. “We sit as a board. We talk about the county.”
City of Miami officials said they’re not trying to compete with Bay Link but merely alleviate growing congestion in Miami. Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo told the MPO board that other funding for the streetcars may come from a public-private partnership or the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Miami recently resurrected the streetcar plan after the city put the brakes on the concept during the recession. The system’s 7-mile loop would link downtown Miami to neighborhoods to the north, including the Design District, Edgewater, Midtown, Overtown and Wynwood. Operating costs are projected at $7.5 million a year. According to city projections, the streetcar would draw 14,000 riders on a typical day.
It’s not clear when the MPO would reconsider the proposal.