tri_rail_web.jpgU/Miami News Service

When five public hearings were held recently throughout South Florida to get public input on a proposed transit corridor along the Florida East Coast Railway, Darryl Holsendolph of the Miami-Dade NAACP was at each one.

The hearings asked for public input on four plans that could convert FEC tracks into a commuter transportation route between Miami and Jupiter using a train or bus system. The FEC also sees a chance for commercial development at train or bus stops.  

Holsendolph, a member of the NAACP’s Economic Development Committee, said he wanted to make sure the discussions included economic development in low-income areas that are near the FEC tracks.

The FEC corridor runs east of Interstate 95 through downtown areas of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and other heavily populated cities and towns. The proposed project area extends approximately 85 miles along the FEC tracks.

In the case of the Overtown community near downtown Miami, two areas have been identified as potential rail stations: one near the old Miami Arena and the other more north near the Greyhound Bus Lines station.

The NAACP, Holsendolph said, is recommending that the station be constructed at the north location.

“That’s the part of Overtown that has been ignored in development,” Holsendolph said. “Right across that station is some of the worst living conditions.”

Holsendolph was among hundreds of people who spoke at the meetings which took place in September in West Palm Beach, North Miami Beach, Boca Raton, downtown Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Some 600 people spoke out on the study which began in 2008 and is being conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation in partnership with local, state and regional agencies in the tri-county area.  Audience members ranged from mass transit riders and business owners to Realtors and property owners.

Most supported both railway and bus plans, said Scott Seeburger, the FDOT project manager for the South Florida East Coast Transit Study.

Angela Andreola, owner of ABS Exotic Repair, an auto repair and restoration shop, said a potential rail station in downtown Fort Lauderdale would be located across the street from her business.  “It will breathe new life into downtowns that were just abandoned by urban sprawl,” she said. “It would give me unimaginable business growth and would instantly create thousands of jobs.”

Two of the proposals offer bus transportation, including an express bus that would run parallel to the FEC tracks. Construction would cost $220 million and yearly operation would cost $47 million. The other bus transportation plan would put a rapid transit bus running along a new dedicated busway that would cost $2.39 billion to build and $57 million a year to operate.

The two train proposals are more costly. A self-propelled rail car would cost $2.47 billion to build and $100 million annually to operate. A locomotive-driven train would cost $2.52 billion to build and $106 million for yearly operations.

The federal government will be responsible for 50 percent of the funding, the state, 25 percent and local governments, 25 percent. Some residents were concerned about the infrastructure required to complete the railway part of the project. A high bridge option is proposed for downtown Fort Lauderdale’s New River crossing.

“We agree that it will give more development and that would be great but it is how you cross the river that is critical,” said Bob Granatelli, community representative of the 1,300 homes along the river. “Why should Fort Lauderdale have to bear the detriment for the improvement of the other communities?”

Comments and questions that came up during the hearings will be taken into consideration as the study proceeds to the next step, which includes input this month from local transportation planning organizations, including the Metropolitan Planning Organizations of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties and the South Florida Regional Transportation  Authority.

The goal is to have a service running within eight years.