Miami commission approves $5.5M for Tri-Rail’s downtown project

Rendering of the Tri-rail station
Tri-Rail station aerial rendering

Miami’s City Commission on Thursday approved a measure that would commit the city to spend a minimum of $5.5 million to link Tri-Rail commuter trains between North Miami and a new privately financed rail hub in downtown Miami.

The vote came after Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado had threatened to veto an earlier measure calling for the city to spend $11 million to fund the project.  The commission directed the city manager to seek additional funding from other municipalities in the region to complete the project.

The $69 million project originally called for $11 million in funding from the city, $20 million from the state, about $8 million from Miami-Dade County and $29 million paid to Tri-Rail as rebated property taxes paid by All Aboard Florida in the form of funds paid to the Overtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

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Thursday’s vote also came after city of Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez said he had reached an agreement to split the $11 million city contribution with Miami-Dade County. He said the city has $18 million dollars in capital reserves that can be used to fund the project — saying the city could contribute $5.5 million with the County contributing $5.5 million. A representative of County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told the commission Thursday the mayor will get whatever funds necessary to “improve the quality of life” in downtown Miami.

The funding measure being pushed by several Miami commissioners seeks to bring Tri-Rail commuter rail service to a downtown Miami station being built by All Aboard Florida, which plans rail service between Miami and Orlando. The company is building a new rail station in downtown Miami that will anchor a huge commercial complex. Tri-Rail is a subsidiary of the publicly funded South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

Jack Stevens, regional director of the SFRTA, said that if the $69-million dollar funding measure is approved in full it will allow 26 trains a day to travel both ways between Palm Beach and a downtown Miami Central Station. He said the project can be completed in two years, but All Aboard Florida has set a June deadline to resolve all funding issues because of its accelerated timetable that seeks to have passenger trains running by 2016.

In 2002, Miami-Dade voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects through the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust. Supporters of the $11 million funding measure say without a Tri-Rail station in downtown Miami, traffic congestion will only get worse, hurting residents and businesses in Miami, which has seen its downtown population double to 80,000 residents and its tax base grow to $13 billion dollars in recent years.