By Joey Flechas, Miami Herald
The last time Miami Beach desired a streetcar — in 1939 — the world was on the verge of war, Clark Gable romanced Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind and the city lost its 65-year-old founding father, Carl Fisher.
Now, three-quarters of a century after the last electric trolley traveled between the island and the mainland, the Beach is pushing forward with plans to create its own piece of Bay Link, a light-rail line that would efficiently transport passengers along the MacArthur Causeway across Biscayne Bay.
Now, with traffic-choked streets every day throughout Miami-Dade, talk of a new light-rail is heating up. Bay Link was first studied in 1988 and the rail was promised to Miami-Dade voters in 2002 when they approved a new half-penny transit sales tax.
The Beach stoked the conversation in August when French rail company Alstom submitted an unsolicited bid to build a 14-mile transit system connecting downtown Miami to the Miami Beach Convention Center, along with five miles of stops through South Beach’s entertainment district.
Miami Beach will take the Alstom proposal to the marketplace in January, seeking other bidders for what would be one-third of the Bay Link project.
Beach commissioners unanimously approved going out to bid while continuing an environmental study required if the city wants to qualify for state funding. To move faster with the project, the commission also decided to forgo a longer environmental analysis that could make the light-rail eligible for federal dollars but would take years to complete.
“The commission decided we were not going to go through more elaborate National Environmental Policy Act analysis to qualify for federal funding, given how long that would take without guaranteeing we would get federal funding,” Morales said.
Officials hope the expedited approach could mean breaking ground in about three years, while the rest of Bay Link gets hashed out.
On the mainland, the topic hasn’t been broached as much at Miami City Hall as it has across the bay, where traffic was a major issue for voters in this year’s Beach election.
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine this week touted the move in an email to residents:
“Last week, the Miami Beach Commission and I authorized the city to move ahead expeditiously to develop a light rail/wireless streetcar system that will allow residents, visitors and business owners to move around our city a lot more efficiently and reduce the amount of cars on our roads,” he wrote.
Levine acknowledged that “the process going forward will not be easy and we will face many challenges along the way.”