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New Year’s Resolution: Miami Beach Transit

Albert E. Dotson, Jr.

After expediting the solicitation process for the Miami Beach light rail/modern streetcar project, the Miami Beach City Commission hit the brakes last month.  In response to concerns voiced by City residents, the Commission adopted a resolution requiring tangible commitments from Miami-Dade County for the downtown-beach transit connection before any public-private partnership (“P3”) for the Miami Beach transit project is finalized.

The City of Miami Beach selected the top-ranked proposer for the light rail P3, Greater Miami Tramlink Partners, in July of last year and has drafted an interim agreement awaiting final approval by the Mayor and Commission.  As proposed, the modern streetcars will run in a loop along Alton Road, 17th Street, Washington Avenue, and 5th Street, ultimately connecting to a County-controlled transit link to the mainland.  

The project brings with it estimated capital costs of $245 million, annual operating expenses of $7 million, and an additional $120 million in maintenance over the next 30 years. The City Commission expressed its hesitation to begin such an ambitious venture without more concrete plans by Miami-Dade County to complete the beach corridor transit project, connecting Miami Beach to downtown Miami through a light rail system along the MacArthur Causeway.

To date, the County has conducted a handful of major studies assessing the feasibility of such a project, the latest of which was published in June 2015.  Additionally, the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization (“MPO”) adopted the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan in April of last year, aimed at advancing six rapid transit corridors within the County including the downtown-beach connection.

Despite a nod to these efforts in its resolution, the City Commission is now requiring “formal action” by Miami-Dade County on the Miami Beach corridor project before the Commission will approve the interim agreement for the light rail/modern streetcar project.  Will the County resolve in 2017 to connect downtown Miami to Miami Beach? A new calendar year may bring renewed focus and commitment to these much-needed transit projects.

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