You’ve heard the buzz. All Aboard Florida (AAF) is coming, and along with it – the game-changing MiamiCentral station, destined to revitalize our beloved downtown. However, our esteemed Mayor Tomas Regalado seems intent on throwing a wrench in the plans. One of the most promising aspects of the construction of AAF’s MiamiCentral is the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority’s (SFRTA) Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link, a proposed extension of commuter rail service by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority that would give Tri-Rail passengers a 1-ticket ride into Downtown Miami. This extension would make way for greater connectivity through Tri-Rail Coastal Link. Beginning in downtown Miami and stretching 85 miles north to Jupiter, the Tri-Rail Coastal Link would provide coastal cities in South Florida with commuter service. With the power to siphon commuters from I-95, spark mass-transit use, and breathe life into downtown, the significance of the Downtown Miami Link and future Tri-Rail Coastal Link cannot be overstated.
Global cities demand world-class infrastructure, and we’re on the cusp of meaningful progress. Located in the heart of downtown, adjacent to Government Center and the under- construction Miami Worldcenter (MWC) mega development, MiamiCentral Station is to be a multi-modal hub where all transportation modes converge in one location. All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) three hour train ride from Miami to Orlando, with intermediate stops at downtown Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm, will serve as the preferred method of transportation for passengers seeking a direct trip to and from any of those locations. Tri-Rail’s Downtown Miami Link will initially connect all passengers on a 1-seat ride to downtown Miami. The Tri-Rail Coastal Link on the other hand, will service 25 stations in the Tri-County region, providing a viable commuter alternative for anyone moving anywhere along the corridor.
While Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), parent company to AAF, is showing no sign of slowing their progress, the Tri-Rail plan has come upon a serious obstacle. This upcoming Thursday, March 26th, City of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff will present his colleagues with a resolution to devote roughly $11 million of the City’s General Allocation Funds to the construction of the platforms and station necessary to establish the initial Downtown Miami Link which will lay the groundwork for Tri-Rail Coastal Link. However, Mayor Tomas Regalado has promised to veto this resolution should the commission pass it. Citing Miami-Dade County’s charter, which states (in his own words) that “the County government is responsible and has all the authority on traffic and transit issues.”
Regalado does not believe that the City should pay for something that falls under the jurisdiction of the County. On the other hand, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has already committed to putting roughly $8.3 million of county funds toward the Downtown Miami Link project, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has promised an additional $17.2 million. Of the $69 million needed for the project, the City of Miami’s portion is seemingly the only one that has not received a strong commitment. The $11 million the city is being asked to help finance is an unheard of bargain in public transportation. For comparison, the full cost of the Metrorail Airport Link was about $400 million to County taxpayers (not including an extra $100 million from FDOT) and took years to realize. This Tri-Rail project is shovel-ready and is expected to starting running by the last quarter of 2016, in line with All Aboard Florida’s first phase of service from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Undoubtedly, Miami is undergoing rapid transformation. Under Mayor Tomas Regalado, the first half of this decade saw a wave of skyscrapers rise downtown. His administration has welcomed a series of mega-developments that will continue to increase the density of our urban center, providing new sources of tax revenue for the city. However, Mayor Regalado does not seem eager to provide Miami the infrastructure that it needs to support that density. The global cities we seek to compete with are investing heavily in sustainable transportation. The most vibrant economies in Europe, Latin America and even the north east USA have realized that they cannot stay competitive without investing in mass transit. Without an outlet valve to the North, Miami will become a congestion nightmare, far beyond what it is now. The Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link would be a key investment toward a global and competitive Miami, a modern metropolis with fully integrated multi-modal transportation system. With the connection to MetroRail and MetroMover, Tri-Rail would provide seamless regional and local mobility for residents, commuters, and visitors alike on the east coast.
For years local leaders in the community have sought to jump start the economy of Miami’s blighted Downtown and Overtown communities. Believing in the promise of the Downtown Miami Link, Coastal Link and its potential to bring opportunity to a historical disinvested community, the Overtown CRA will be asked to commit approximately $39 million towards the Downtown Miami Link. Although All Aboard Florida will generate over $120 million in TIF dollars to the CRA and initially informed the CRA that it would not ask for any of the TIF dollars, the SFRTA and All Aboard Florida saw an opportunity to leverage about 33% of TIF dollars to make Tri-Rail’s Downtown Miami Link a reality. The Tri-Rail Downtown Miami Link would connect residents of Overtown to opportunities northward and beyond. When paired with the commercial and residential developments planned for the rest of downtown, the connectivity provided by this initial investment would give Overtown and Downtown further energy and send the whole corridor into a virtuous growth cycle. This would generate employment and economic opportunities. Not only would visitors from throughout South Florida’s coast be able to come down and enjoy what our proud city has to offer, but also give the residents of those communities access to employment centers throughout the coast. Without this investment, these planned developments downtown would create economic scenarios to which our city is all to used to, localized and distinct commercial centers that do not integrate the community around it.
Regalado’s stance on the issue indeed seems so at odds with the actual well being of his city, his legacy, and his constituents, that he has been recently accused of politicking. When addressing the issue, he has seemed conspicuously keen on laying the blame on the doorstep of longtime rival, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, reciting time and time again that the County should foot the bill. Meanwhile, it is expected that Gimenez’s main opposition during his 2016 reelection campaign will be none other thaIn Regalado’s own daughter. It’s unclear whether or not there is a precedent that dictates whether the County should cover for the City. What is clear however, is that the City of Miami stands to gain a great deal from this infrastructure investment, that will over time pay dividends several times more than the initial investment.
Multi-modal transportation is the future, and no one knows it more than Commissioner Marc Sarnoff who is spearheading the resolution on Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Meeting (see resolution item RE-8, (link to agenda here). As Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) he has been supportive of creating an urban center that is more accessible and pedestrian-friendly. The DDA recently announced plans to reduce the lane count of Biscayne Boulevard to create a more welcoming human environment. Mayor Carlos Gimenez also seemed to be on board with providing his constituents with other options to move around. He has cast his support behind The Underline, an 11-mile bike friendly linear park being designed under the MetroRail by none other than James Corner Field Operations, the masterminds behind Manhattan’s High Line.
Much has been made in the news recently about the importance of urban mobility options in attracting top level college graduate talent to metropolitan areas. The key behind this notion is that people want options when it comes to how they’re going to run their errands, get to work, and visit friends. It’s not only limited to Millennials, but rather it’s an intergenerational sentiment. Having choices is liberating, it provides you with the freedom to choose. Most Miamians don’t have a realistic choice when it comes to commuting other than driving. Let’s give ourselves a choice, let’s give ourselves that freedom. It would only fitting that Henry Flagler’s long dormant train tracks, which gave birth to our darling city, a century later will play an integral role in her renaissance.
If you’d like to tell Mayor Regalado how you feel about his promise to veto, he can be reached at . A petition has been started for those who would like to see the resolution pass and be signed by the Mayor, which can be found here. Also, if you would like to tell him in person, I urge you to attend the City of Miami Commission meeting on Thursday, March 26th at 3:00 PM at City Hall.