US hand-delivers $29 million to regional transit board
By Shannon Pettypiece
US Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta stopped in in South Florida on Tuesday to formally recognize the new Regional Transportation Authority and award a $29 million grant.
Mr. Mineta's visit was his first transit-related stop in the area, and his decision to meet with the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is seen as a sign that the new three-county group carries weight in Washington.
"For them to let us know that they are aware of it is very poignant," said Joe Giulietti, director of the authority. "It is extremely positive in that he looked at what the other expansion issues are down here."
The authority held its first meeting this summer. Members say that by planning on a regional instead of a county-by-county basis, South Florida will be better able to woo federal transit dollars. The state Legislature last spring approved creation of the authority.
Mr. Mineta's visit to announce a substantial federal grant for Tri-Rail improvements seemed to support the authority's creation and mission.
"We have had a lot of support on the Federal Transit Administration side, going up all the way to Secretary Mineta," Mr. Giulietti said.
Mr. Mineta said President George W. Bush's $256 billion transportation-funding bill would finance many of South Florida's mass-transit plans - such as an extension of Tri-Rail north to Jupiter and use of the Florida East Coast Railway line for commuter service.
"These new transportation investments for Fiscal Year 2005, totaling an estimated $56 million, would be financed through the president's surface-transportation bill," Mr. Mineta said during a public forum in Delray Beach.
He has been promoting the president's transportation plan in several states this month with stops in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. While in South Florida, he also spoke at a harbor-safety conference at the Broward County Convention Center.
The funds Mr. Mineta provided the regional authority will help pay for ongoing construction of new Tri-Rail tracks, 11 new bridges, improvements to several Tri-Rail stations and upgraded signal crossings.
The new Tri-Rail tracks are being built next to existing ones so trains traveling in opposite directions will not have to stop when passing.
"A lot of Secretary Mineta's comments showed his knowledge and understanding of how critical having a second track was in terms of providing better service," Mr. Giulietti said.
The federal government is responsible for 77% of the cost of the new tracks $81 million. The rest of the funds will come from state and local sources.
Commuters should be able to see the results of the new tracks by summer, when wait times at peak hours are likely to be reduced to 30 minutes from an hour, said Mr. Giulietti.
The tri-county rail line expects to have 27,900 riders a day by 2015 - three times more than it now serves.