Miami Beach Commission Considers Controversial Proposal For Transit Connection To Miami

Jul 15, 2019

The Miami Beach city commission reviewed on Monday a possible plan to build a tax-funded transit system across Biscayne Bay connecting the city with Miami.

The Malaysian casino company Genting submitted an unsolicited proposal to Miami-Dade County two months ago to build a four-mile monorail that would start near the MacArthur Causeway in Miami and run to Fifth Street in Miami Beach. Local and state governments would pay about $240 million of the $400 million project. Genting and its partners would pay the rest.

Genting’s proposal has prompted the county to open a bidding process that would allow other companies to make proposals for the project. Miami-Dade is also studying the best mode of transit for the corridor between Miami and Miami Beach as part of its $25 million SMART plan for the county’s six transit corridors.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez spoke to the Miami Beach commission about Genting's proposal during the meeting on Monday. He and other commissioners noted that there have been talks about a “baylink” system for decades, and the network is no less necessary now.

“It’s obvious when you look in the streets the kind of traffic problems you have,” he said.

Genting and other companies will have several months to respond to the county’s request for proposals for the transit system. The county could then accept one of the pitches or reject all of them and start again.

Gimenez has said he wants to limit the transit options for the system to a monorail, an extension of the county’s Metromover service or rapid transit buses — which travel along dedicated bus lanes.

Genting owns the 14-acre waterfront property near the MacArthur Causeway that used to be site of the Miami Herald’s offices. The company has sought to build a casino resort on the property and is lobbying for a change to state law that prohibits such a gaming center.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said during the meeting he’s concerned about Genting building the transit system and then later winning approval for its casino proposal. He said the system starts at the waterfront property and would feed right into the casino.

“That would be the worst thing ever,” he said.

“We don’t want this to be a vendor-driven process where a single company has a solution it thinks works for it but perhaps doesn’t work necessarily for our residents,” he added in an interview. “We want to get it done right, not just get it done fast.”

Florida’s two U.S. senators also expressed “grave concerns” on Monday about Genting’s proposal.

Genting is partnering with BYD Motors LLC, a subsidiary of  a Chinese electric car-maker that also specializes in automated rail systems. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway is a major foreign investor in BYD.

WLRN partner the Miami Herald reports that Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with South Florida U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, sent a letter to Gimenez urging him to “consider the potential dangers to U.S. economic and national security posed by contracting with Chinese-back enterprises.”

They noted BYD is partnering with the “state-directed” firm Huawei, which the Trump administration at one point placed on its list of companies deemed a risk to national security. The lawmakers said the project could expose the county to Chinese espionage.

In a July letter to Gimenez, a lawyer and lobbyist representing the Monorail group said BYD North America business is not owned by the Chinese government and that its American manufacturing operations comply with Buy America provisions

Still, Miami-Dade commissioners have shared reservations about the security risks of contracting with the company, and Gimenez told the Miami Beach commission on Monday that he agrees.

“I would be less than frank if I didn’t share those concerns,” he said. “But there’s only so much we can do as a local government.”

The Miami Beach city commission is expected to continue reviewing Genting's proposal Wednesday. Gimenez said he is also talking about the plans for a baylink with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.