County Officials Divided On Metrorail Extension To Airport
By Shannon Pettypiece
County planners are butting heads over the route for a connector between Metrorail and a transportation hub planned near Miami International Airport.
Citizens who participated in a June hearing supported a Metrorail extension that would run from Earlington Heights Station down the median on Northwest 22nd Avenue to the north side of the transportation center.
But Miami-Dade County Commissioners serving on the board’s transportation committee said last week that the route selected with public input is too costly, will interfere with public land and could divide the community.
"A long time ago, we put in an expressway that divided a community," Commissioner Joe Martinez said. "We want to avoid doing to this community what we did to Liberty City so many years ago."
When Interstate 95 was built it divided the Overtown region and dislocated many residents who flooded into Liberty City.
An extension would move airport users in and out of the transportation hub – called Miami Intermodal Center – that will house rental-car facilities and a light-rail connector to the airport.
According to a report by the Office of Public Transportation Management, the route selected in the public hearing would have a minimal environmental impact, could be extended west and would cost $282.8 million.
But some county commissioners say the route supported by residents would hurt business at marine industries near Northwest 32nd Avenue and the Miami River. Instead, they support a route along the railroad corridor that they say would cost only $213.6 million, require less land acquisition, have a smaller impact on Miami’s Melrose community and could be built more quickly.
The Office of Public Transportation Management’s report, however, said the railroad route will interfere with flight plans at Miami International Airport, could not be extended west and would hurt businesses on the Miami River.
Last month, the county missed a federal deadline Aug. 28 for choosing a route and will not be eligible for federal funds until next year.
"We cannot afford to be missing deadlines," Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said. "I for one do not want to see us losing money as a result of us not working expeditiously."
The Metropolitan Planning Organization was scheduled to vote on a route at their July meeting but ran out of time. The panel could not gather enough members for a special meeting in August to beat the funding deadline.
"Every moment that this is delayed hurts us from getting money from the feds," said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro.
Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson said that while the issue is on the agenda for the panel’s Sept. 25 meeting, Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler plans to defer the issue to a Sept. 30 workshop and put a decision to a vote at the board’s October meeting.