zafar_alikhan_web.jpgPLANTATION — Several Central Broward residents are on edge about the Florida Department of Transportation’s plan to create a new mode of travel along Interstate 595.

Jacob Greene, president of the Broward Estates Civic Association, said at a community forum on Monday that citizens he represents remember how the Interstate 95 project displaced many people in Fort Lauderdale’s black community and other areas, such as Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

FDOT project managers want to build a 21-mile, light rail system along I-595. Light rail is essentially an electric railway system that operates like an updated version of a trolley or streetcar.

Under FDOT’s proposal, the tram would travel parallel to I-595, from the Sawgrass Mills mall to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Supporters say it will help spawn local businesses and provide better access to jobs near light-rail tram stops. It will also alleviate traffic congestion.
But people living in urban areas whose homes may be affected see the proposal as a problem.

“They have concerns about the possibility of losing their homes as well as an increase in the level of crime in the areas of proposed depot stops on 441 near Broward,” Greene said. “We have not been provided a straight answer about the exact impact on our community.”

The first of three scheduled public meetings to discuss what is called the Broward east-west transit analysis took place on Monday, Sept. 15 at the West Regional Library, 8601 W. Broward Boulevard in Plantation. Another meeting took place on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale. The next meeting will take place at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale on Sept. 25.

The focus of the meetings is to get input from people in the communities and affected areas, and what they prefer as an appropriate alternative, said Zafar Alikhan, project manager for Jacobs Engineering, the company that serves as the main consultant for FDOT on the project.

At each meeting, attendees are encouraged to sign up for a 3-minute time slot to speak candidly about their concerns and opinions about the system. Comments can also be written on forms provided or recorded individually on film.

“From that,” Alikhan said, “we can define a list of different options so that we can conduct our final analysis, and then come back to the communities and agencies with some recommendations and evaluations.”

Public workshops will be scheduled throughout Broward County for the next two years.

The limits of the project corridor are between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and the Sawgrass Mills mall and BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. The study area runs north to south from Oakland Park Boulevard to Griffin Road, and includes 595 as well as other corridors that are under evaluation.

In an initial study, the system is estimated to include about 16 stations, Alikhan said.

“We still need to look into each city and determine what’s appropriate. We looked at both the light rail system and bus rapid transit (BRT) to meet the needs of potential commuters within Broward County,” he said.

The recommendation from the study is to advance the light rail system in Broward County. However, BRT is still under consideration for two reasons.

“One is to provide a comparison to the rail or higher type of service,’’ Alikhan said. “The second is to simply have another option. As we continue the process, we would like to have some alternatives.”

Light rail transit is powered by wires suspended above the train.

BRT is a bus service that operates like a rail vehicle.  It has the ability to move commuters at faster speeds than an automobile.

The $1.25 billion project, according to Alikhan, will be funded by the Federal Transit Association, as well as state, regional and local funding.

Scott Seeburger, special projects manager for FDOT, estimates ridership on the proposed system to stand at 24,000 to 26,000 commuters per day, removing about 20,000 cars from the roads.

Several area residents attending Monday’s meeting said they were in support of the rail system, citing reasons including ease of commuting to the airport, connecting Weston to area colleges, gas savings and easy access to Sawgrass Mills mall and the BankAtlantic Center.

Even Greene admitted that he understands the “concept of the study and the need for a solution to the congestion,” but the people he represents are frightened about their neighborhood and homes, he said.

“We just want more input. We want to see FDOT more involved within our community. We’re talking about seniors; many that are unable make it out to these meetings,” he said.

Seeburger said he wants everyone to understand that “at this time, FDOT is still in the phase of conducting studies,” and because of that, there cannot be any “solid answers. We do understand the concerns many have about the impact on their communities, but all the data isn’t in. That’s why we encourage people to come out and talk to us. All feedback is taken seriously.”

CynthiaRoby@Bellsouth.net

Photo by Khary Bruyning. Zafar Alikhan



THE MORE YOU KNOW

Here is the scheduled timeline for the light rail/BRT project:

2008 – 2010    Conduct draft environmental impact statement
2011 – 2014     Preliminary engineering and final environmental impact statement
2015 – 2016     Final design and obtain funding
2017 – 2020     Construction
2021 – 2022     Begin service



IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Public meeting to discuss the Broward East-West Transit analysis

WHERE: Broward General Medical Center, Auditoriums A & B; 1600 South Andrews Ave, Fort Lauderdale.

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 25. Open house 6 p.m., presentation 6:30 p.m.

COST: Free and open to the public

CONTACT: People wishing to attend the meeting who require special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact Sharon Cino, transportation specialist at FDOT, at 866-336-8435, ext. 4662, or by e-mail, sharon.cino@dot.state.fl.us at least five days before the meeting.