With or without Miami Beach support, mainland agencies roll ahead with plans for light rail
By Frank Norton
Angered over Miami Beach's refusal to endorse plans for a light rail system linking the city and downtown Miami, mainland officials are preparing to go it on their own.
"We're very disappointed the Miami Beach City Commission has not been able to reach a decision on a light-rail system," Clark Turner, City of Miami transportation planner, said Monday night.
"I anticipate we will now proceed with planning and implementing a light rail system on our side of the Bay, minus the Beach."
Former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin, who helped introduce BayLink in 2000, echoed Mr. Turner's words.
"The notion that Miami Beach is an island unto itself is both fanciful and dangerous since so many people commute across the bay both ways," Mr. Kasdin said.
Despite the Beach's deferral of the BayLink issue, mainland and county officials plan to press forward.
Miami-Dade County on Tuesday approved a study of how its own existing Metromover system could be expanded to cross the Bay. The faster, sleeker system would follow the route proposed for BayLink along the MacArthur Causeway, said County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro.
By law, neither the county nor the Metropolitan Planning Organization needs Miami Beach's approval to build a transit system such as the BayLink.
But the Miami Beach commission had been expected on Monday to endorse some version of the BayLink proposal so county planners could move ahead on efforts to get federal matching dollars. The commission instead deferred an endorsement of any version of a Beach-to-mainland transit plan, citing needs for further study.
"It's a bad thing for the Beach because light rail has proven an attractive and popular alternative to the automobile," Mr. Kasdin said.
"Miami Beach had an opportunity to get to the front of the line for federal transit funding and we'll fall to the back of the line; it was a sad, sad day," he said.
The BayLink proposal is estimated to cost more than $400 million.
Beach Mayor David Dermer, who has repeatedly criticized plans for a light rail linking the mainland and the Beach, said his constituents do not want a light rail or automated people mover.
"Just from talking to people I would say 80% are against this thing and that's just a reality," he told commissioners and other government officials from both cities and Miami-Dade County.
"I'm not being out of whack... it's just unacceptable," he said.
In November, about 70% of South Beach citizens who voted on a countywide referendum were in favor of the half-cent sales tax plan to finance a variety of transportation projects, including extending the planned rapid transit system onto South Beach from downtown Miami.
"I believe in mass transit, we need down here. We're not the sleepy community we once were," said Beach Commissioner Luis R. Garcia Jr., who along with Commissioner Jose Smith had endorsed some version of BayLink.
"You have made a foe out of a friend," Mr. Garcia told other commissioners Monday.
In addition to deferring a decision, the Beach commission voted to request that county and state planners study extending the BayLink beyond South Beach all the way to the northern boundary of the city.
In the past, Mayor Dermer has said Miami Beach voters would prefer more buses rather than a light rail or automated shuttle. But Mr. Garcia said more buses would overload parking and generate more noise and emissions pollution.
"You would have people take a bus to catch a train, and that would make things even worse," he said, adding that sidewalk cafes do not prosper on bus corridors.