Miami-Dade County has been angling to build a connector between Miami Beach and downtown Miami for decades, and it could start inching closer to reality as soon as next week.
It’s no secret that traffic and lack of public transportation options have consistently ranked at the top of issues affecting Miami-Dade residents.
It’s also no secret that the beach corridor has been marked down for improvement for years — the county did its first feasibility study on the link back in 1988, and nearly 30 years later it was one of the six corridors included in the 2016 SMART PLAN.
Getting the connector built has the potential to kill two birds with one stone. A long sought-after project would get done while residents would have an alternative to wading through parking lot-esque traffic.
And letting private industry have a hand in the solution could help it get done without placing an extraordinary burden on Miami-Dade taxpayers.
That’s the situation that’s presented itself to the county with a stake in the project.
In early May, a private consortium that includes Malaysian casino company Genting and a Chinese monorail manufacturer submitted an unsolicited proposal to build the connector.
It would be a modern solution that could get people from point A to point B in a flash, not to mention it could have a significant impact on tourism in the region — in the SMART PLAN itself, the beach corridor project is listed as the most in-demand project among tourists. It would also help connect area residents to major employment centers.
A monorail, for instance, could help lure lucrative events such as Ultra, which is currently testing the waters with other South Florida municipalities.
Rather than worrying about the added congestion on roadways or putting the onus on hotels to coordinate a busing scheme, attendees staying on the mainland could just hop on a monorail and get to their destination without inconveniencing people on their daily commute.
But ever since news of proposal by Genting et al. materialized, there’s been a major focus on how much it would cost and if there’s a catch.
Regarding the latter, a lot of numbers have been tossed around regarding the cost of such a project. One report funded by the county last year — well before the proposal landed on County administrators’ desks — estimated a monorail system would cost $1.1 billion to build and another $18 million a year to operate.
The connector project will by no means be cheap, but everyone reporting on the project is operating on speculation since the Miami Beach Monorail proposal — and all unsolicited proposals — are exempt from public records laws.
Still, Florida Politics has learned the cost of building and operating this monorail would be significantly lower than the amounts reported in other news outlets over the past couple months.
Either way, the proposal in its current state is a conversation starter.
The county has no obligation to take the deal as written. In fact, the next step required to explore the idea further is a bidding process.
County Mayor Carlos Gimenez plans to get the ball rolling on that this week by asking county commissioners to put out a request for proposals formally.
If they consent, the deal — whatever it may be — could only get better.
These type of private sector proposals that trigger RFPs to determine their feasibility are not only game changers to address much-needed infrastructure needs in Miami-Dade County and across Florida, but also encourage competition, which in turn could benefit taxpayers.
Put simply, the government can’t get the job done on it’s lonesome, but a mixture of public funding and private-sector ingenuity can turn projects — that would be pipe dreams otherwise — into reality.
The county commission deserves a retrospective pat on the back, too.
That a beach corridor is even in the cards in 2019 is a testament to their foresight in passing 2017’s public-private partnership ordinance. The monorail proposal is a direct result of that farsighted ordnance.
Of course, any public-private partnership requires not only the county commission to be on board but for the public to buy in as well.
The latter already has.
In 2002, the public voted in favor of a half-cent sales tax to fund the “baylink” connection. But 17 years and billions of sales tax collections later, the connection is still in preproduction despite study after study showing it’s warranted.
It doesn’t help that Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has come out against the project based solely on the companies behind it.
“Although I can only speak for myself as Mayor, I believe that most or all of my Commission will strenuously object to any plan that might allow for, or even contemplate, a casino that is placed nearby or that is actually tethered to our community,” Gelber said in a letter to the Miami-Dade commissioners. “Our City has for many years opposed casino gaming within our city limits or outside our gateways.”
His opinions on casinos aren’t out of the ordinary, but they are hardly relevant when it comes to this transportation project, as voters have already said their piece on that as well.
Last year, Florida voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment putting any future expansion to casino gambling in their hands.
And the consortium’s proposal is a direct counter to one of the major complaints Gelber and his ideological allies have against casinos: that they extract their revenue from communities without giving back.
Here, the exact opposite is happening.
A private company is interested in doing something Miami-Dade residents have wanted for decades. That should be welcome news to Miami-Dade County Commissioners.
Not only because they’d be able to deliver on their constituency’s want for a baylink connection, but because the savings generated by private sector involvement in this project could instead be used to complete other SMART corridors.
By following Gimenez’ lead and authorizing the issuance of an RFP for the beach corridor, Miami-Dade County could be leading the way to solving its transportation infrastructure needs while showing the state how to leverage the private sector’s interest in these type of projects.