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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tie It All Together

If you have read what I wrote recently about the possible future of Miami's development, the Herald article below plays into it. (Sort of like each time I write about drug smuggling, poverty, corruption or money laundering there is a new story about it in the paper.) Everyone knows the problems with regional integration projects. Miami and Broward have been resisting integration. Though this region desperately needs to cooperate on transit, the same petty ethnic conflicts that caused damn near half of a million people to exit Miami Dade for Broward has put the damper on this. A regional train is even more important than the MIC or the extensions of metro rail which we will not be seeing until 2050 yet it is a fraction of the cost. The existing infrastructure for the north south, east of I-95 line just needs an upgrade for a rapid train.

We need a more powerful, centralized Regional Planning Authority/Council. As it is now there are just a hodgepodege of regional planning organizations with limited funding and authority. Even former mayor Alex Penelas, after taking as much lobbyist money as possible vowed that an independent, central body with wide ranging powers was the only way to get politics, lobbyists and corruption out of the way of regional transit planning and execution. (We have a South Florida Regional Planning Council but unlike the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut based Regional Planning Association or the Greater L.A. Regional Planning Association it has little authority or influence). It might be something comprehensive like the (NY, NJ, CT) Regional Planning Association that outlines policies for the (NY/NJ) Port Authority, which runs area ports, including airports and commercial intermodal centers as well as a commuter rail system, the PATH Train(Port Authority Trans Hudson). The combined design and organization of the various transit authorties are thus able to coordinate a public transportation infrastruture that serves portions of three states and 12 counties.

Now just imagine being able to work (or for employers to tap the talent) in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach's major eastern cities, with all within a 50 minute commute. The natural amenities such as the beaches and harbors and the Everglades have created urban development patterns actually work FOR us for once!

Anyway here is an excerpt from the article:

The idea of running commuter trains on the Florida East Coast Railway corridor is rising once more from the dust bins of dream projects that were oft-studied, but never removed from the drawing boards.
''For years, governments have been looking at it with drooling mouths,'' Scott Seeburger, a project manager with the Florida Department of Transportation, said of the 82-mile FEC corridor that runs through 45 downtowns from Jupiter to Miami.
Supporters say commuter trains along the FEC corridor would give millions of South Floridians an alternative to driving and take advantage of a redevelopment boom along the tracks east of Interstate 95 from downtown Miami to Jupiter.
GOOD ALTERNATIVE
Unlike Tri-Rail, which runs along a largely industrial and warehouse corridor dominated by Interstate 95, boosters say an eastern train would provide an accessible alternative that is much closer to where people live and work.
The FEC corridor would also provide local governments with a linchpin to entice transit-oriented homes, shops and offices to redeveloping downtowns.
Several major residential and retail projects, such as Midtown Miami, are already taking advantage of the boom and would be strategically poised if passenger trains returned to the area for the first time since 1968.
Local officials coveted the FEC corridor when Tri-Rail was being developed in the 1980s, but FEC management at the time refused to sell.
WRONG TRACK
That's how Tri-Rail wound up on the CSX Transportation tracks that run on the less populated, and more industrial areas west of Interstate 95 from West Palm Beach to Miami International Airport.
''Right idea, wrong corridor. That's always been the problem with Tri-Rail,'' said Johnathan Nelson, a Miami Beach high school teacher and train enthusiast.
FEC WILLING
Headed by former Miami banker Adolfo Henriques, the new FEC corporate leadership appears to be much more willing to sell a portion of its corridor for commuter rail.
The biggest questions: How much would it cost to buy a portion of the corridor and develop a parallel passenger train that wouldn't damage FEC's ability to run thousands of freight cars every day from Jacksonville to Miami? And who would pay for it?
Some conservative estimates place the price tag on the corridor alone at $500 million to $600 million.
Tack on the construction of 82 miles of track and dozens of stations and the budget quickly swells toward the $1 billion mark.

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