Towards a Short-Term Solution for Mass Transit

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On Friday, November 1st, my office hosted two Sunshine Meetings at Miami City Hall to discuss the potential of bringing Tri-Rail to the areas of Poinciana Park, Liberty City, Lemon City, and Midtown.

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, District 7

The overflow crowd included stakeholders, and representatives of other TPO board members, such as staff from Commissioner Esteban Bovo, as well as Executive Director Aileen Boucle. Here there were two notable participants: the Director of the Tri-Rail Agency (Steve Abrams) and the lead executive of the FECR/Brightline/Virgin entity that owns and operates the trains that presently serve downtown to Palm Beach, traversing in the process no less than 28 municipal clusters along the Eastern seaboard.

I mentioned the “overflow crowd” because the meeting had been planned for the mayor’s office, but the number of attendees far exceeded that room’s capacity, and we ended in the Chambers. Others present included the executive director of the Wynwood BID (Business Improvement District) and owners of property in Wynwood, Midtown, and Lemon City.

Let me explain why these three neighborhoods are interested in a using the Tri-Rail line for a commuter train. As part of the deal to build the aforementioned Miami Central Station (at a cost of $68M), the agency that operates Tri-Rail, with support from the city and the county, extracted a contractual commitment, called a “perpetual easement” to use the FEC line that connects downtown to those neighborhoods, as well as others to the West, as I will soon elaborate.

Not only that, but Tri-Rail has set very affordable rates for intra-county service – a bit more than $2. If city and county choose to subsidize the commuter train along the line, and build modest platforms for train stops, the entire inner city of Miami can soon be served by a commuter train!

The best prototype is already funded, with $2.5M allocated by the State of Florida for a platform right at the juncture of MidTown with the Design District, immediately adjacent to the Borinquen Clinic on 37th street. Adding a stop at the historic Lemon City makes enormous sense, as it will capture pedestrians and cyclists from the Eastern border of Liberty City and will revive the historic train station that already has a very nice public space where a small shelter can be installed.

And that brings us to the last but perhaps most important meeting of the day…

Com. Jean Monestime, whose district encompasses the area known as Poinciana Industrial Park, graciously agreed to hold our second Sunshine Meeting at the same location as the first. Its purpose was to energize the development of a long-planned project, located on NW 79th St, between 27th Ave. and 32nd Ave. 

It had dawned on me, when meeting with former State Representative Roy Hardemon, that this neighborhood is also right on the FEC/Tri-Rail tracks. Blessed be the day that the City of Miami negotiated the track access fee for Tri-Rail into downtown, using this very railway line! Buttressed by that deal, it becomes a fait accompli that residents of Lemon City, Little Haiti, Liberty City and Hialeah are now connected by rail to downtown Miami. 

Not only that, but the residents of Overtown get to ride Tri-Rail for free – in perpetuity!

In effect, due to the well negotiated deal, inner city residents have not only a North-South corridor that they can use, but also an East-West corridor. And it is one operated by a government agency, which cannot jack up fares.

The county, which has failed to negotiate a track access fee for the stretch of rail from Little River to Aventura, is now left at a negotiating disadvantage, having to buy land from the FEC (to the tune of $19M) and build a $76 train station for the right to have a train station whose fares it cannot control.

It is time for the county to learn from the city how to do public transit. Believe me when I say it will happen.

Xavier Suarez

County Commissioner, District 7

Member of the TPO Fiscal Priorities Committee

Member of the Housing and Social Services Committee


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