Renewed discussions about the possibility of a light-rail system connecting downtown Miami with Miami Beach, across the MacArthur Causeway and terminating at the Miami Beach Convention Center, has once again prompted responses both in favor of and opposed to the proposal.
A similar system was initially proposed toward the end of the administration of former Mayor Neisen Kasdin, still an advocate, but then quashed under the subsequent administration of former Mayor David Dermer. A straw poll early in the process demonstrated majority, if not overwhelming, public support for the proposal, according to a long-time city activist.
The $483 million Baylink plan that almost become a reality a decade ago went down also largely in part due to available funding. The plan currently under discussion would cost more than $530 million to construct and more than $20 million to operate annually, according to project planners who met with the mayors of Miami-Dade County, Miami and Miami Beach two weeks ago. All three mayors – “Carlos Gimenez of Miami-Dade, Tomás Regalado of Miami and Philip Levine of Miami Beach enthusiastically embraced the project and formed a partnership to pursue funding for the first major step in advancing the endeavor,” according to a Miami Herald report.
Levine confirmed that he was in favor of the potential project but did not respond to specific questions about the possibility by SunPost press time.
“This is not about practicality, it is about necessity,” Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco told SunPost. “The intra-city roads in Miami Beach are not getting any bigger, nor is the causeway. The price tag is not astronomical, especially when compared to the public benefit. It’s time for South Florida to grow up when it thinks about transportation. A lot more people are on board this time around as opposed to back when Baylink was proposed. Miami and Miami Beach have grown over the last decade and both continue to flourish. We have more residents and tourists to move around and we need to give them the means to do so.
“We are 10-15 years behind when it comes to public transportation,” Grieco continued. “It is not just about getting people to the beach anymore. It is fine time that we start embracing the blurring of our city limits. For all that the Beach has to offer to the mainlanders, downtown Miami now provides for commercial, cultural and entertainment choices previously unavailable, drawing Beach residents west.”
Traffic congestion – the most common concern one hears about the proposed plan – would also be reduced, according to Grieco.
“If you live on the Beach and either work downtown or want to go to a Heat game/the Arsht Center/museum/etc., car stays home,” he said. “If you live on the mainland and work/play in Miami Beach, car stays elsewhere. I do not expect the South Florida car culture to change overnight, but providing a clean, safe, reliable alternative to driving and sitting in traffic sounds pretty good to me. In 2003, 90,000+ drivers crossed Biscayne Bay everyday and things have just gotten worse. We were playing catch-up 11 years ago, so I do not even know what game we are playing now… but we are losing.”
Discussions are just now underway, with the interested mayors working together on initial funding for a project development study.
Meanwhile, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro has suggested extending the Metromover to Miami Beach as an alternative. Barreiro could not be reached for comment.
Funding is obviously a major concern in an era of strapped budgets.
“We need a state of the art system,” Levine was quoted as saying in the Miami Herald. “We just need to figure out how to pay for it.”
One suggestion that has at least been discussed is a public-private partnership that could involve sponsorships, third-party operators, etc.
Still, not everyone is thrilled with the idea of the potential major development.
“So, from what I read, all Miami Beach has to do is permit an illegal 50-story development on Alton Road, allow a currently illegal residential development on [Terminal Island] and then build a $500 million train across the crowded causeway to reduce traffic and improve the city,” said a Miami Beach activist, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This sounds a lot like the Thomas Kramer era. No wonder the City is trying to do away with Save Miami Beach.”
The activist was citing the alleged advantages of a marina-residential development on Terminal Island that would require zoning changes; and the now in-question Crescent Heights development at 5th Street and Alton Road. According to one expert source inside city hall, both of those developments would violate the provisions of Save Miami Beach, a populist revolt in the 1990s that forced the City of Miami Beach to seek public approval for waterfront up-zoning.
How the proposed light-rail system might be impacted by Save Miami Beach – if at all – is unclear.
However, there are plenty of other problems with the proposal, according to prominent civic activist Frank Del Vecchio.
First, Del Vecchio pointed out that there is no funding and nothing in the works to provide the massive funding.
There is no right of way availability on MacArthur Causeway,” Del Vecchio told SunPost. “The partial right of way that was available in 2003 has been used for the Port Tunnel.”
Nor is there a right of way available in Miami Beach, Del Vecchio said.
“[It's] not available without giving up travel, parking, or sidewalk right of way on the primary route: 5th Street, Washington Ave., 17th Street, and Alton Road. Even more right of way would be necessary on the supplemental routes: around the South Pointe Perimeter and looping around the Convention Center.”
Station locations also worry the activist.
“The route map shows from 14 to 23 stations in Miami Beach: 14 on the primary route and 9 on the supplemental route,” Del Vecchio said. “Where would boarding take place? The 2003 plans placed them at intersections in the middle of the street.”
Del Vecchio had several other specific concerns about the application of the proposed plan, and he also questioned the potential traffic impact.
“The city’s Baylink study showed that even though a marginally small number of vehicle trips over MacArthur would be reduced, principally due to a reduction in bus trips, Baylink would not reduce MacArthur traffic congestion,” he said. “What is the reason for the resuscitation of the Baylink idea?”