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Why right now is the ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment for commuter rail in Miami

By: Zach Schlein

When you imagine Miami’s many amenities, mass transit isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind. Sure, Miami has several qualities that make it a great place to live: Beautiful beaches, stunning cityscapes, bustling (although paused) nightlife, not to mention one of the most diverse and culturally rich populations in the United States.

The Magic City covers a substantial amount of square mileage in order to fit in all of the above. And yet, it lacks the same sort of navigable public transportation system that other cities of its ilk possess.

Enter Albert Garcia, chairman and co-founder of the Wynwood Business Improvement District.

“Transportation and mobility are all about improving the functionality of cities,” Garcia said. “All of us have experienced the problem of traffic on our roads and highways. We are one of the most congested areas in the U.S., and South Floridians spend hundreds of hours a year stuck in their cars due to increasing traffic.”

Both Garcia and Wynwood BID have endeavored to make the titular neighborhood one of Miami’s foremost cultural destinations over the last decade. Now, they’re turning their attention toward expanding the city’s horizons vis-à-vis commuter rail. The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners will soon vote on a plan that would expand the city’s transit offerings by establishing railway stations at major hubs of activity such as Wynwood, the Design District, Aventura, and Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus. Garcia and Wynwood BID are inviting residents to join them in encouraging county commissioners to approve the initiative.

“We don’t know of any project of this size and scope that could begin to put people back to work and spur significant economic impact at a time when our community needs it most,” Garcia said, adding the undertaking would create more than 23,000 construction jobs and as well as 2,500 permanent positions.

Beyond reducing the need and ensuing environmental impact of gas-guzzling cars on Miami’s roads, the project’s economic potential is one of Garcia’s chief concerns. Calling it a “lightning in a bottle” moment, he says Miami-Dade County is in a unique position to take advantage of not only its own long-standing plans to overhaul the city’s transit, but also private investments made by the Brightline train service as well as CARES Act funds allocated for commuter rail.

“COVID-19 has provided an opportunity and a challenge,” Garcia says. “There’s a rare opportunity for the County to take advantage of free-flowing federal funds that were previously difficult to get to help pay for transportation projects of this scope and scale. That is also why timing is critical for the Commission to approve this project in order to leverage such federal funding opportunities before they expire.”

If approved, Miami’s expanded railways could begin construction this year to be fully operational by 2022. Looking to the future — both immediate and long-term — Wynwood BID is endeavoring to generate public interest in the project before county commissioners cast their final vote.

In addition to encouraging residents to reach out to local officials and organizing an informational webinar with The New Tropic (here’s a link in case you missed it), Wynwood BID has partnered with more than 30 local institutions such as the Adrienne Arsht Center and the Miami Marlins to form the Northeast Corridor Coalition. The coalition, which also includes FIU, is hoping to make the gravity of the opportunity clear to the county.

“What we’d like to ensure is that everybody’s tuned in to what is being proposed,” Garcia says. “In all our discussions, we have not encountered anyone who is opposed to a station. Public transit is only as good as where it can get you… A commuter rail system doesn’t just impact the County over the next two-three years, but allows us to build a transportation network for future generations.”

Original article