Airport's transportation hub may depend on finding funds for people mover
By Jaime Levy
With Miami-Dade's aviation department saying it can't supply $300 million for a people mover to connect the airport to a planned transportation hub, stakeholders in the project are wondering whether - and from whom - the money will materialize.
In February, Miami-Dade Aviation Director Angela Gittens told county commissioners that most of the money needed for the connector between the planned Miami Intermodal Center and Miami International Airport - the only part of the $1.5 billion project for which the county is responsible - was not available. On March 1, the Miami Intermodal Center's program manager wrote a memo stopping work on the project until a source of funding can be identified.
"The areas we've discussed with the county first of all may be that the state could bring to the table at least some of the funding shortfall," said Nick Serianni, business and financial manager for the Miami Intermodal Center, which had been slated to be operational by 2008 and which would include several car rental agencies, a Tri-Rail stop and parking spaces.
"The district secretary said potentially that the department of transportation could contribute as much as $80 million. But that's not a firm commitment and still leaves a funding shortage of $220 million."
Although the people mover, which would transport mass transit-users, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians from the transportation hub to the airport, would cost $400 million, Miami-Dade County had only set aside $100 million.
The intermodal center as a whole is funded by a combination of state and federal grants as well as contributions from various stakeholders, including rental car agencies that will be headquartered there and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which will share rights of way with the facility.
Assistant County Manager George Burgess stressed that the county is only starting to examine alternative revenue sources for the people-mover but said the airport's capital improvement plan, a proposed transit tax and the creation of a redevelopment district encompassing the Miami Intermodal Center could be considered as funding options.
"Right now, we're looking at all of our different options," he said. "Right now, we're trying to drill into it, to nail down what kind of funding we need, what the timing is. We'll lay it out in the next couple of weeks."
Carlos Bonzon, deputy director of capital programs for the aviation department, said the county has spoken with the Florida Department of Transportation and is considering initiating talks with the US Department of Transportation as well. If there is parking at the Miami Intermodal Center for airport use, he said, the county could leverage more funds from the federal government based on safety concerns.
"We are fully committed to building the MIC-MIA connector," he said. "All we need right now is to be granted a time extension so that the system is built at the right time, based on actual demand and in full coordination with the needs of the rental car companies, who are also experiencing some difficult times after 9/11."
He said both the Florida Department of Transportation and Miami-Dade Aviation Department staffs "will continue to work closely to fulfill our commitments."
Some groups that have already put money into the project are hesitant to add more.
"We're very interested in this project, clearly and already have some commitments and acquired some land," said Florida Department of Transportation district spokesman David Rosemond. "We have put in as much as we possibly can toward doing this. For us, it would be a shame not to see this move forward."
"The ball is in the county's court," said Ric Katz, Miami Intermodal Center public relations manager. "Every other entity has been tapped."
But Dennis Newjahr, director of planning and capital development for Tri-Rail, said it was imperative for everyone involved in the project to determine a way to create a connector. The Miami Intermodal Center is supposed to house a Tri-Rail stop, but the state is paying for Tri-Rail's move.
"Any time you can move people from point A to point B in a convenient manner, it will only benefit the service you're trying to provide," Mr. Newjahr said. "If the people mover is the critcal element, we shouldn't just put it aside and ignore it. We need to go where we can to include and look at all funding options.
Everything, he said, "needs to be put on the table to discuss all of our options. All parties need to come together to make sure it happens."