Citizens panel to reconsider Metrorail car rejection
By Lou Ortiz
The Citizens Independent Transportation Trust is to meet April 14 to reconsider its vote on whether to allow Miami-Dade County to use sales-tax funds to buy 198 Metrorail cars.
"We're having another meeting and bringing this issue up again for reconsideration," Miles Moss, chairman of the citizens' group, said of the 6-5 vote March 26 to reject the county's plan.
Mr. Moss said county commissioners could brush aside the group's vote last month and purchase the railcars by amending the ordinance that requires the half-percent sales tax transportation surcharge to be used for new transit projects. Such a vote would run counter to the promises officials gave voters regarding the sales tax surcharge.
But Mr. Moss said commissioners want to work with the trust, which had agreed in 2004 to rehab the cars, not buy new ones.
On March 18, the county commission agreed to replace Miami-Dade Transit's aging fleet on an 8-2 vote, which triggered the need for the citizens group to meet and decide whether to go along with the amendment for the new use of the surtax funds.
The group was given authority in a 2002 ordinance on how the surtax would be spent. Voters who approved the tax were told receipts would be used to expand transit activities in the community.
The county commission backtracked in its March meeting from its 2004 vote, when commissioners agreed along with the trust to rehab 136 railcars for $188 million.
The commission acted after the county transit agency failed to overhaul the 1984 fleet and after $5.4 million in consultant fees to come up with the rehab plan.
But the project stalled. Bids for the work exceeded county staff estimates, climbing to $300 million by 2006. After an another study last year, totaling $3.5 million, the staff proposed in March to buy new railcars for $401 million, a price that is likely to increase as bids are prepared and submitted over the next year or two.
County staffers defended their latest proposal, saying that the plan would include a total of 198 railcars — 62 for an anticipated Metrorail expansion — and that it would result in future savings of $40 million to $140 million. New cars have a life of 30 years versus 20 years for rehabbed cars.
Mr. Moss said the citizens group wants to use the sales tax funds for the Metrorail's expansion to the north. But he added that the 15-member panel realizes that the federal government will not help fund the expansion if the county cannot maintain the current system, including its cars.
He said the citizens group also understands that the county is strapped for cash and there are "not other sources of funding for this."