More funds flow for Tri-Rail downtown link
Written by John Charles Robbins on June 30, 2015
A link to bring Tri-Rail passenger service to downtown Miami is a “no-brainer,” supporters said as the proposal garnered another promise of cash last week.
Miami city commissioners met as the board of the Omni Redevelopment District Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) on a proposal to help bring Tri-Rail to All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral station, now under construction.
The commissioners unanimously authorized a two-year grant of up to $1,875,000 a year to the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to help extend direct Tri-Rail service into downtown.
As part of the development of MiamiCentral – a privately funded multi-modal transportation hub under construction by All Aboard Florida – the addition of two train platforms would allow for connection of the current Tri-Rail passenger service west of I-95 ending at the airport to downtown, as well as provide facilities needed to support the planned coastal link that will ultimately take Tri-Rail north along the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway corridor to Jupiter.
Barry Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, told commissioners he supports the link to downtown.
“Transportation is the number one challenge facing the community,” Mr. Johnson said.
In a fast-growing metropolis like Miami, he said, it is vital to have ways to get people in and out of the city.
Although there is no silver bullet to do the job, the Tri-Rail extension into downtown is a “key” part to the puzzle, he said.
“It’s probably the biggest no-brainer in the history of the Earth,” said Mr. Johnson.
Joe Pena, who works in the president’s office of Miami Dade College, attended to lend the college’s support to the Tri-Rail link.
The college’s employees and students rely on public transportation, he said, and the 30,000 who frequent the Wolfson campus downtown battle growing traffic congestion.
To add weekday trains to the north would make travel more convenient and less time-consuming for faculty and students, Mr. Pena said.
A downtown Tri-Rail link would also bring patrons to events at the college, including the popular annual book fair, he said.
Mr. Pena said public-private partnerships can help to stretch the value of a dollar, and to support the Tri-Rail extension would mean reaping its benefits for years to come.
The supportive resolution lists justification for the expenditure, and those items are echoed in specific goals in the 2009 Omni CRA Redevelopment Plan, including:
•To provide employment opportunities and upward mobility for residents by the creation of jobs within the community.
•To create economic magnets to draw more businesses to the Omni area to compliment established activities in the area.
•The maximizing of conditions for residents to continue to live in the area.
•To eliminate conditions that contribute to blight, encourage the restoration of historic buildings, and “enhance the area’s visual attractiveness to businesses and residents by creating opportunities for new development through improvements to the public realm.”
It further notes that state law says the promotion of regional transportation and specified transportation improvement projects is a goal of CRAs.
The Omni CRA vote comes on the heels of other funding commitments.
In May, the city’s Downtown Development Authority agreed to spend $1.3 million over the next three years to support the Tri-Rail extension.
The Miami-Dade County Commission’s Transit and Mobility Services Committee approved $13.9 million in funding to bring Tri-Rail to MiamiCentral.
The full cost to make the Tri-Rail link to MiamiCentral is about $69 million, a combination of city, county and state funding. The Miami City Commission has yet to vote on a final Tri-Rail link funding package but is expected to this month.
All Aboard Florida, the private rail line planned to operate between Miami and Orlando owned by Florida East Coast Railway, offered the regional transportation authority the opportunity to run tracks and Tri-Rail trains into the vast station it is building downtown.
Tri-Rail runs on the CSX line’s tracks now, while the planned All Aboard Florida trains are to run on FEC tracks.