State Surprises County With 100 Million Metrorail Grant
By Shannon Pettypiece
Miami-Dade County’s mass-transit aspirations got a boost last week when the Florida Department of Transportation appropriated $100 million for a Metrorail extension to Miami International Airport.
The grant will pay more than a third of the costs of the project, with the remaining $160 million coming from revenues from a half-percent sales tax, said Carlos Bonzon, county manager of surface transportation.
At hand is a plan to extend Metrorail from the Earlington Heights station at Northwest 22nd Avenue and State Route 112 to a proposed transportation hub, the Miami Intermodal Center, next to the airport.
The project is to be completed in 2012. Metrorail would enter the center, and passengers would transfer to a people mover that would take them into airport terminals.
The extension to the airport was the keystone of a county plan to double the reach of Metrorail. The county wants to expand the train west to Florida International University in Tamiami, east to the Port of Miami, north to the Broward County line and south to Florida City.
Federal funding for the extensions is contingent on high ridership. With a connector to the airport, the county expects ridership to rise significantly.
"It will strengthen our case in the eyes of the (Federal Transit Administration) for getting funding for the north and east-west corridors because it will increase ridership when we can access the airport," Mr. Bonzon said.
County officials were not expecting such a large grant. The state had not allocated money for the projects in a transit-expansion plan approved by voters when they passed the sales-tax increase in November 2002. County planners assumed they would get about 25% of funding from the state.
Florida Department of Transportation officials said they gave the hefty grant because it fits with long-range plans to create more transit centers like the planned Intermodal Center.
"This is a strategic link to an intermodal system that needs to advance as soon as possible to coincide with completion of the people mover to the airport," said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz.
The Department of Transportation has invested more than $1 billion in the transit hub. "The (hub) doesn’t make much sense if it isn’t connected to Metrorail," Mr. Bonzon said.
The county’s transit-planning arm, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, has approved the route. Next, the county must complete an environmental-impact study, which will take a year, and comply with other federal regulations before it can buy land.