January 2022
City backs New River tunnel
for commuter rail service
The Fort Lauderdale City Commission took a major step forward this week to protect the future of downtown while at the same time supporting the regional expansion of commuter rail service.
At my urging, the commission unanimously went on record as supporting a tunnel through downtown as the preferred option for how the increasing number of passenger trains should cross the New River. What has had us so concerned is that the Florida Department of Transportation has been more focused on the idea of building an elongated, high-rise bridge – a prospect that many see as having serious, long-term detrimental consequences on quality of life and the downtown renaissance.
The city’s resolution sends a strong message to the pair of agencies in charge of making the final decision on the New River crossing. FDOT wants the Broward County Commission to choose the top option on Feb. 22 followed by a vote of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization in March or April.
For those who have not been following this discussion closely, the commuter rail service was proposed initially as a transformative project that would address South Florida rapid growth and help relieve increasing traffic congestion. It would supplement Brightline with frequent trains making stops about every two miles or so – including Hollywood, the international airport, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park and Pompano Beach.
The hope for better mobility, though, comes also with a challenge.
The current drawbridge at the New River is very old and sits right above the river. It would be down so often that it would devastate the marine industry that relies on the river to navigate from boatyards farther west. Thus, FDOT began looking at building a higher bridge or a tunnel so marine traffic will be much less impacted.
The primary bridge options would basically build an elongated bridge at least as tall as the 17th Street Causeway from north of Davie Boulevard to south of Sunrise Boulevard. It would be between 56 and 80 feet high for much of its length – between five and eight stories tall.

I have several key arguments of why a tunnel is better…
The future of downtown
Downtown Fort Lauderdale is the center of an ongoing renaissance that needs to be nurtured, with 13,000 new residential units, 600,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 1.1 million square feet of office space, and 1,000 new hotel rooms to be developed over the next 10 years.
That’s on top of the phenomenal growth that has already occurred. Fort Lauderdale’s population has grown 41 percent from 2010 to 2020 and is projected to grow an additional 45 percent by 2025.
Many of the recent and upcoming residential and commercial projects are located next to the proposed bridge, including the planned joint county-city government campus. A bridge would also impact the picturesque Riverwalk.
The potential harm … and the social costs … to creating an increasingly vibrant, cosmopolitan urban core where people can live, work and play could be extreme. 
The Northwest Community Redevelopment Area
A bridge would divide the city’s historic black community surrounding Sistrunk Boulevard from downtown and the adjacent Flagler Village. For some 20 years, the city has endeavored to have the economic success of downtown and Flagler Village cross over to the Sistrunk area.
Sadly, the train tracks were the boundary between white and black Fort Lauderdale when the city was segregated on racial lines. But now we have the chance to right the wrongs of the past.
One of the concepts of modern planning is to rebuild infrastructure that once divided communities. Through transportation initiatives, we can erase the vestiges of the past. In fact, a key goal of President Biden is to reconnect communities through the administration’s infrastructure program. 
Historic District
The rail line crosses the New River right at the historic district. The current drawbridge has little impact on its surroundings, but imagine support columns being built on the front lawn of the New River Inn and the adjacent historic homes and history center, rising 80 feet in the sky and the underside of a bridge looming overhead. Talk about history being overshadowed. 
FDOT has repeatedly argued that a bridge could be beautified. Their suggestions include design elements such as lighting, artistic treatments and the general architecture of the columns and the bridge.
But painting bridge columns to look like Legos or dominoes just doesn’t cut it as beautification. Yes, those were some of FDOT’s suggestions. 
A tunnel is feasible
The planners working on the New River crossing have long made a tunnel seem too complicated to build. And, they told us it would cost an astronomical $3.8 billion, a figure that they said would doom the entire commuter rail project.
But in recent months, I’ve met with internationally renown tunnel experts. They have tunneled underneath the harbor in Sydney, the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, through the Pyrenees and Alps as well as under many other major cities from Barcelona to Toronto.
All say a downtown rail tunnel is economically and technically feasible. They place the cost between $700 million and $1.8 billion. They say further cost reductions are possible.
What’s a bridge cost? Up to $700 million. So, the numbers are getting much closer together.
And with the Biden administration’s new infrastructure program underway, there is much more federal aid available. I’ve spoken to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and his initial reaction was that a tunnel to support commuter rail service and reconnect divided communities in Fort Lauderdale is dead center in his agency’s goals. 
We are about to make a decision that will impact downtown for the next century.
Think about how Las Olas Boulevard would look today if city leaders had made a different decision in the late 1950s.
Post-war population growth had led to major congestion on an old drawbridge on Federal Highway over the New River. After intense debate, the decision was reached to build the Kinney Tunnel.
If they had chosen a bridge, Las Olas would be much different than the quaint street of shops and restaurants that exists today. There would be a large bascule bridge servicing Federal Highway right in the center of the street between the Riverside Hotel and the Stranahan House. 
This is truly a legacy project, and the right decision must be made: a tunnel.
So at this point, we must appeal to the members of the county commission, and seek their support for the tunnel. Their information is below.


County Commission contacts:

Mayor Michael Udine: [email protected]
Vice Mayor Lamar Fisher: [email protected]
Commissioner Steve Geller: [email protected]
Commissioner Nan Rich: [email protected]
Commissioner Tim Ryan: [email protected]
Commissioner Mark Bogen: [email protected]
Commissioner Beam Furr: [email protected]
Commissioner Jared Moskowitz: [email protected]
Commissioner Torey Alston: [email protected]
Mayor Trantalis participates in the final 2021 Chamber of Commerce board of directors meeting to provide an update on Fort Lauderdale's tunnel concepts.
Mayor Trantalis helps drop the anchor during Fort Lauderdale's New Year's Eve "Downtown Countdown."
Mayor Trantalis holds a press conference with police and fire officials as well as Allied Health at Fort Lauderdale's newest COVID-19 testing site, Snyder Park, located at 3299 SW 4th Avenue.
Mayor Trantalis, Commissioner Sorensen and city staff cut the ribbon for the Cordova Road seawall.
Mayor Trantalis participates in the 100th birthday celebration for The Bonnet House.
Mayor Trantalis takes a tour of the L.A. Lee YMCA/Mizell Community Center, which will open this April.
Mayor Trantalis helps serve up beverages during the Greater Fort Lauderdale Food & Wine Festival.
Mayor Trantalis, Commissioner Sorensen and the Harbordale Civic Association celebrate the completion of the SE 10th Avenue Restoration Project.
Mayor Trantalis and staff from Ric-Man Construction mark the ground-breaking for the Edgewater and River Oaks neighborhood's stormwater projects.
Mayor Trantalis joins with students and volunteers of The YMCA during Fort Lauderdale's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.