A Window of Opportunity for Baylink

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez

Arguably, the so-called Baylink connector, linking downtown to South Miami Beach, is stalled due to missteps taken by the current county administration.

In fact, it is not so much stalled as at a very interesting crossroads.

Here is the good news.

At the last county commission meeting, the board considered two recommendations from the mayor. One was to spend upwards of $160 million for a new system of synchronized signals, which are meant to reduce traffic congestion in the county. The other was to negotiate with an unsolicited bidder (Genting through its Honk Kong subsidiary, Genting Malaysia Bhd, via its wholly-owned subsidiary, Resorts World Miami LLC) that would design, build and operate a monorail across the MacArthur Causeway.

The first project should wait until we see how many people choose to work from home after the COVID19 crisis subsides. Furthermore, it should also be put on hold while the mayoral election takes place and the county voters decide whether they like the idea of free public transit, as approved recently by Kansas City and as occurs in many cities in Europe.

Most estimates of the number of commuters who will work from home range between 20% and 50%. If you add to that post-COVID scenario the possible elimination of fares (as is the case already for the trolleys and Metromover), you could see a reduction in commuter traffic of as much as 40%. That obviates the need to spend $160M on signalization improvements, when all that will be needed is minor tweaking of red-light and green-light cycles, which can be done manually.

As for Baylink, now is the time to pull back on the travesty that is a $770 million cross-bay monorail that would cost riders $5 per trip, which is unaffordable by commuters or residents, given that the distance traversed is barely three miles.

Here is what the mayor should have recommended instead. Following up on the resolution of the Baylink Executive Policy Committee, on which Gimenez served (as did I), what should be in the offing is a system built and operated by the State of Florida jointly with the two cities and the county. The resolution calling for that was approved more than four years ago and is still in place.

Using the recommended technology, which is monorail, the system would cost somewhere between $150 and $160 million to build. That could be done with the money saved from the now possibly obsolete signalization system.

Alternatively, if we wish to have seamless connection between downtown Miami, Omni, Brickell and South Beach, we could extend the Metromover at a cost of $300 million; the additional $140 million could come from special taxing districts (as we did for the two prior Metromover extensions).

Here is the most important part. No public transportation system – particularly one that connects the two sides of a bay right next to where the world’s largest cruise ship port sits – should be built or operated by a foreign company based in Hong Kong, whose citizens are now being deprived of what little freedom they had.

That’s bad enough, and our two U.S. Senators have said as much.

From our local perspective it’s all wrong. Our leisure workforce, 40,000 of whom work in Miami Beach hotels and restaurants, should pay zero or next-to-zero for commuting across the bay. The public bears the capital costs, as we do for roads. And the operating costs (which are minimal) can be paid by charging visitors and casual users a differential rate. Tourists would pay whatever amount to ride what will be a partly elevated monorail across what is already the world’s most attractive bay.

Casual users, such as concert and museum goers and Miami Heat fans, will gladly pay $10-15 to avoid having to park downtown.

In short, we have a window of opportunity before us.

Let’s not blow it!

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez can be reached at 305-669-4003 or via email at district7@miamidade.gov.

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