County hires firm to propose Miami-to-Beach transportation solutions
By Victor Cruz
Miami-Dade County has chosen a New York-based firm whose founder designed that city's subways to study transportation options between downtown Miami and the Beach.
Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas, with offices in Blue Lagoon, will be paid $1.5 million for the two-phase, 22-month study to begin this week, said Larry Foutz, the firm's deputy project manager. Options already under discussion include light rail and a busway.
The study will include an environmental impact analysis of alternatives; a program showing community participation; financing, and engineering reports showing the best ways to solve congestion along the corridor.
During the first phase, which could take about "10 or 11 months," the firm will draft environmental impact studies.
"At this stage, (in a light rail alternative) we are looking at factors like what downtown streets we are going to use, where we are going to tie into, where stations would be located," Mr. Foutz said.
The county's Metropolitan Planning Organization will choose one proposed solution before proceeding with phase two.
Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin proposed the study early this year as a solution to congestion in Miami Beach and downtown Miami. He said light rail can cost one-third less to build than heavy rail.
"When a rail system is serving a denser urban core, then you have a higher ridership and that makes it more feasible," Mr. Kasdin said Tuesday. "You have that in Miami Beach and downtown."
The study of transportation connections between downtown and Miami Beach has been previously studied by the Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas.
In 1995, the same firm completed an east-west corridor study that examined the cost for a combination of heavy rail and light rail system that would link west Miami-Dade to Miami Beach.
That study found it would cost "in excess of $1 billion" to build the system. When Mayor Alex Penelas's attempt to create a penny tax to support the transportation re-haul later failed, the rail project was "put on the back burner," said Wilson Fernandez, project director for the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
What's different this time? The project this study is looking at, Mr. Fernandez said, is much smaller in scope and more focused. He said there is also more active participation from officials representing both cities, as well as support from the county.
"Let's put it this way, the federal government helps those who help themselves," he said of the strategy of winning federal support by showing a united front.
And light rail technology has improved since 1995, he said, making it cheaper to develop.
Miami Beach Mayor Kasdin said the 1995 study included areas of low density, which made it less financially feasible for a rail system.
Approval of the study of public transportation options for travel between downtown Miami and Miami Beach by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group charged with administering the county's 20-year master plan, is part of a cooperative effort on all fronts to land federal dollars to pay for a solution.
The study's several components, said Mr. Foutz, Parsons Brinckerhoff's deputy project manager, are to be presented to the Federal Transportation Authority in an effort to secure funding.
"We are asking for the government's commitment, " Mr. Foutz said, " with the assumption that we can show that we have local money committed to the project."
Parsons Brinckerhoff, chosen over four others for the job, was picked by a nine-member committee appointed by then-county manager Merrett Stierheim.