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Front Page » Top Stories » Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail, but how?

Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail, but how?

Written by on December 6, 2016
Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail, but how?

Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail on the island, but if, how and when it will connect to the mainland remains to be seen.

Miami Beach “has been moving forward assertively to advance the first phase,” which is service within the island, said Charles Scurr, executive director of the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, at a Nov. 16 meeting. The trust is charged with overseeing the half-penny sales tax voters approved for transit in 2002.

“The first phase is moving quickly and do we anticipate action items coming to this board in the spring. We’ll continue to update you in the next couple of months,” he told trust directors.

“This has been in the planning stages for a very long time,” Kathie Brooks, Miami Beach assistant city manager, told trust directors. In fact, it was first made part of a long-term transportation plan in 1969, then again studied in 2004 and 2015.

Light rail was always considered, and then, in 2015, modern streetcars that would not have overhead wires were added, she said. “Those two have begun to merge.”

The service would run in a circuit from Washington Avenue and Fifth Street to Alton Road and 17th Street. “We did start out looking at phases one and two,” which would include a connection to the mainland, she said, “but we have narrowed it to begin phase one, because it’s feasible and constructible with existing sources of funding.”

The budget will be $245 million for phase one, with operating costs pegged at $7 million per year. Miami Beach will fund 62.5%, Miami-Dade County and the trust 25%, and the Florida Department of Transportation 12.5%, subject to approval by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, she said.

If all goes well, a final environmental report could be done next April and a final price negotiated with a contractor by the end of 2017, she added.

When conducting neighborhood studies, “the single biggest feedback we got was the need for a connection across the causeway,” Ms. Brooks said.

“I see there’s been some community resistance that’s emerging, and that’s to be expected,” said trust director Paul Schwiep. “If you don’t have 10% to 15% of the population that is unhappy, then you’re not pushing transit enough.” Fortunately, he said, the city administration won’t give in to the naysayers.

“There were concerns raised about integrating your proposal into the larger Baylink system,” Mr. Schwiep told Ms. Brooks. “I know you’re hoping to bring the county along in your process. What does that look like?”

“We’re trying to make sure that whatever we do, the system will be interoperable,” she replied. “The technology will be able to come across the causeway. The basics are the tracks and the power supply. We required that in our proposal” for a private operator to run the beach part of the system, she said.

“As far as bringing the county along, we’re in constant contact with Alice Bravo [director of the county department of Transportation and Public Works] and Monica Cejas [Miami-Dade Transit senior professional engineer], to try and expedite as much as possible. They’re working hard to come up with a funding plan. The word we hear is that the project development and environmental study will be done in early 2017. We’re hoping, as we move along next year, we will get commitments as to what their timelines are.”

Meanwhile, a Tuesday email from Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said “we need to mobilize residents and visitors alike through a smart and efficient light rail system that connects all of Miami Beach to the mainland to reduce the number of vehicles clogging our causeways and entering our city.

“Miami Beach has signaled that we are ready to bring smart light rail to our city. We would be ‘shovel ready’ when [Miami-Dade] County moves forward with a long-awaited Beach Corridor transportation program, commonly called Bay Link.

“However, it is important that the facts are made clear in this process. We will not sign any agreement that commits financial resources to the plan until we have full commitments from Miami-Dade County that they are willing partners in this endeavor and that they are fully committed to a real connection … our taxpayers alone should not bear the full responsibility of building a rail corridor that connects Miami Beach to the City of Miami. But, we know that for it to be a successful system, connectivity throughout Miami Beach and key points in Miami are essential,” the mayor’s email continued.

“I will ensure that a transparent process through open dialogue continues and that ZERO tax dollars are committed until we have the full support from our local, state and federal partners and then (and only then) will this vision be brought back to the commission

10 Responses to Miami Beach is moving forward with plans for light rail, but how?

  1. DC Copeland

    December 7, 2016 at 7:28 am

    Hopefully Metro-Dade will nix this cockamamie idea in the bud since the Mayor of Miami Beach and his lockstep cronies will not put this before the people to vote for or against it. The price for such a short run is outrageous and the technology will fail during the first King Tide. What Miami Beach needs is a mass transit connection to the mainland, not a traffic lane hogging “light rail” system on the narrow streets of SoBe. The best and cheapest solution is to expand their free trolleys and let Uber and Lyft take care of the rest. As for BayLink, this proposal nixes the horrors of having the beach’s streets torn up for years to realign infrastructure and to strengthen the roadbed to support the “light rail” trains because it doesn’t run on the streets.

  2. Prakash Kumar

    December 7, 2016 at 11:04 am

    Miami beach needs a public transit light rail system very badly. Tourists as well local residents are facing hardship in commuting between Miami Beach and Downtown.

    • DC Copeland

      December 7, 2016 at 11:58 am

      Maybe if there was so much land available you could add a dedicated light rail line but there isn’t. Light rail requires a dedicated lane. We can’t lose lanes because we need everyone we have. Plus, once a train breaks down at grade, gridlock ensues. And there there’s this:

  3. bill mayhew

    December 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    What a SHAME and a TOTAL WASTE of public money whereas FUNDS could be spread in MUCH wiser PUBLIC USAGES! SAD DAY FOR MIAMI BEACH and I regret VOTING for Mayor Levin!!

  4. TZ

    December 8, 2016 at 11:07 am

    DC Copeland, I watched the video. You make a good point about the light rail. A lot of the drivers due to cultural habits, lack of driver’s education and the emergence of smart phones in Miami are more prone to accidents.

    Do you have data to prove that a monorail is less expensive directly and indirectly than a light rail?

    • DC Copeland

      December 8, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      Yes, click this: Scroll down and you will see actual costs for building a monorail from downtown Miami to the Convention Center. Nearly half of the run is along the MacArthur Cswy at grade but off the grid (it hangs over the water but is not elevated to save costs). Although the costs are close to a decade old by now, I don’t think inflation will factor in more than what it cost to build the 1 mile PortMiami tunnel (close to a billion dollars) because the monorail run is longer than what would be used today (this plan circled the demolished Miami Arena– today it would join up with Miami Central Station). The engineer who came up with these figures spent a lifetime building them in SE Asia and other parts of the world. Because money is always a major factor on projects like these, it was suggested that a private entity join the traditional financing trio (local, state, Feds) to bring the public costs down even further. Unfortunately, one of the major disadvantages to this solution– which eliminates years and years of tearing up streets to rearrange buried infrastructure and to reinforce the roadbed to bear the weight of the “light” rail trains– was that the north-south elevated run was over beach sand. Naysayers had a problem with that because they believed it didn’t fit in with the natural beauty of the beachscape. I, and many more like me don’t. We think its a great fit!

  5. defamed2

    December 8, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Check a comparison between a street-level light rail and an elevated monorail done for Seattle: The same principles apply to Miami. The beach connections needs to be done with an elevated monorail, and not with a street-level light rail in already heavily congested roads.

  6. Lee J. Huas

    December 8, 2016 at 9:13 pm

    We need more people coming to Miami Beach like we need a hole in the head. The beach is too crowded and there is too much construction. How about giving the residents a break.

    Putting a light rail on our crowded streets is NUTS! Ridership will be no where near projections.

  7. B

    December 11, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Guys, Miami Beach’s roads are NOT narrow at all compared to other large cities. We really are spoiled here. We have over 100 ft to work with on Washington. We can use it more efficiently to move more people faster. Even many residential streets can accommodate 4 lanes plus a center turn lane! Parking is more of an issue, but the City is building more garages after all.

    • DC Copeland

      December 12, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Sorry, but the streets are narrow (especially with the bike lanes) and building at grade is nuts because of the beach’s proximity to sea level.