After deciding over the summer that adding a train system in South Dade is unnecessary, Miami-Dade County’s transportation board voted Thursday to approve a new train line to the north.
The proposed elevated train will run along Northwest 27th Avenue up to the Broward County line. Much uncertainty lingers as there's no timetable for the project. The county must still determine how to fund it and decide what form of an elevated train to add—the commissioners noted the train may not be like the Metrorail.
However, the Transportation Planning Organization’s decision is a step closer to fulfilling a decades-long promise to the North Dade community and represents the county’s first approval of a train expansion under a 2016 rapid transit plan. Despite past concerns about the cost of expanding rail, members of the board—made up of Miami-Dade county commissioners and some local city elected officials—agreed it's necessary to ease travel along the increasingly-congested North transit corridor.
“Traffic is a problem. And I’ve always said the only way we can address this traffic problem is to give folks options,” said board chair Esteban Bovo Jr. “Options for those residents that are everyday locked into their car and their quality of life keeps going down.”
Thursday's vote was part of the SMART rapid transit plan, a process that launched studies on how to improve transportation along Miami-Dade's six busiest transit corridors. Each corridor's study is supposed to conclude with the transportation board endorsing a new mode of transit.
The board’s overwhelming vote in favor of the proposed 13-mile train line along the North corridor comes after it rejected in August an extension of the Metrorail to Florida City along the South corridor. Board members said the $1.3 billion extension would be too costly and instead approved a $534 million bus rapid transit route along the existing South Dade busway.
Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava supported the south-bound train extension and was still disappointed about it on Tuesday, but voted anyway to approve the northbound train.
Board members said a bus option is not feasible along the North corridor because there is no existing busway. They cited a recent recommendation by a state consultant in favor of the train line. It would be too disruptive to local traffic to create new bus lanes, said the consultant, WSP USA.
Proponents of the northbound train line benefitted from Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s support for it. An advocate of the bus rapid transit system, Gimenez led a charge against the southbound rail option over the summer. But he agreed with the consultant’s recommendation for the elevated train to the north.
"We believe that elevated system is the appropriate system for the north corridor,” the mayor said at Thursday’s meeting. "We will work closely with the TPO to move this along."
Dozens of residents called for the rail addition for the North corridor during the public speaker portion of the Thursday's meeting. Much of the proposed train line will run through predominantly black communities. Kenneth Kilpatrick, president of the Brownsville Civic Neighborhood Association, said the train would benefit such communities.
Other speakers also cited a promise by the county to extend the Metrorail north along 27th Avenue soon after the rail line launched in 1984. Miami-Dade again promised the extension when it campaigned for a half percent sales tax in 2002 to fund a Metrorail extension.
“It’s been a long time,” said Linda Taylor, who lives in south Miami-Dade but routinely travels north. “Driving is such a big problem now. Sometimes from South Dade, it would probably take me two hours to get to North Dade.”
The county now must settle several major issues before any development on the train line can begin.
An initial proposal for a Metrorail extension northward was slated to cost $1.8 billion, five million more than the rejected southbound plan. Members of the board on Thursday agreed to look into a cheaper alternative. County Commissioner Babara Jordan mentioned a monorail train, while Gimenez discussed train cars with rubber tires that do not run on steel rails.
Once the commission decides on the design of the train, it will seek funding from the federal and state governments and through public-private partnerships. A federal transit grant is not guaranteed as cities and counties across the country compete for a limited sum of money. As part of the private partnership, a company would fund the construction of the project in exchange for yearly payments from the county.
Jordan, who represents North Dade, said she’s hopeful that 75 percent of all funding will come from the federal and state governments.
“The easy part of our work is done,” Bovo Jr. said. “Now comes the big challenge and the challenge is upon all of us to go to the federal partners. Each one of us have our contacts.”