The Real Deal Miami

Tri-Rail inches forward after Miami City Commission vote

$69M project still needs $20M from the state
By James Teeple | July 24, 2015 12:00PM

Rendering of the Tri-Rail station in downtown Miami

Miami’s City Commission late Thursday approved two measures that will authorize funding to link Tri-Rail commuter trains between Miami International Airport and the new privately financed rail hub in downtown Miami.

Commissioners voted to approve more than $8 million in city funds for the project and recommended that an additional $17.5 million be allocated to the project from funds paid to the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA). That funding proposal is expected to finalized next Monday by the CRA.

Tri-Rail still needs to obtain an additional $20 million in funding from the state to complete the $69 million project, which seeks to bring Tri-Rail commuter rail service to a downtown Miami station. All Aboard Florida, which plans rail service between Miami and Orlando, is building the station that will anchor a huge commercial complex.

Tri-Rail is a subsidiary of the publicly funded South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. The organization has received commitments from other local governments and authorities for funding, including $13.9 million from Miami-Dade County officials.

But Thursday’s funding proposals nearly became de-railed after city officials balked at providing an additional $750,000 to cover debt service on the $17 million funding proposal expected to be finalized by the Overtown CRA. City attorneys objected to the proposal, as did District 5 commissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents Overtown residents. A compromise proposal that would have had Tri-Rail use its own funds to cover the debt service and get reimbursed by the CRA for that amount in construction costs failed.

Tri-Rail Executive Director Jack Stephens told The Real Deal that he will find the money to bridge the funding gap. “We still have to get $750,000 to get across the line,” he adds. “This is a small matter. We have to find it somewhere, so what I did was commit to somehow find it.”

Stephens has said that once the project is finished, 26 trains could travel daily between Palm Beach and a downtown Miami Central Station. In 2002, Miami-Dade voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects through the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust. Commuter rail supporters say without a downtown Tri-Rail station, traffic congestion will only get worse in Miami, which has seen its downtown population double to more than 80,000 residents and it tax base grow to $13 billion in recent years.