Today, I will be leading a group of South Florida officials on an important trip to investigate whether it would be feasible to build an underground tunnel for commuter rail service to transit our downtown.
This represents an exciting possibility that could dramatically reshape the future growth of downtown as well as resolve long-standing traffic problems. And even more importantly, there is the chance that the project could be done for substantially less than anyone ever imagined.
We will be visiting the latest venture of business entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk first built his reputation around the development of the Tesla electric car and then space transportation. Now, he is looking at ways to reduce traffic congestion by offering new low-cost tunneling construction technology.
Among those joining me on the trip are City Manager Chris Lagerbloom; my chief of staff, Scott Wyman; Broward County Vice Mayor Michael Udine; the county’s rail expert; Miami Mayor Francis Suarez; Husein Cumber, a high-ranking executive in Florida East Coast Railroad’s business arm; the railroad’s rail infrastructure expert; and its tunneling consultant.
How did this all start?
Well, Brightline is set to relaunch their commuter service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach later this year. They are expanding the service to include more stops. At the same time, there has been revived interest in jump-starting the long-planned Coastal Commuter Link. The Coastal Commuter Link would include many additional local stops in the tri-county region with frequent service.
The benefits of the commuter service would be significant.
A person could catch a train in Oakland Park and go to the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport for a flight out of town, someone in Pompano Beach could take the train to the Aventura Mall, or someone living in Boca Raton could commute to work in Hollywood by train. Of course, Fort Lauderdale would be at the center of it all with our downtown rail station.
But there are some challenges created by commuter rail.
With dozens of additional trains running along the FEC corridor every day, a crucial choke point would occur at the New River. Easy river navigation is important to our marine industry because many boatyards are located west of the railroad’s river crossing, and the marine industry is a critical part of our economy.
The current low-rise train bridge would be used so frequently that many in our marine industry would suffer great financial harm as their businesses would become largely inaccessible.
The initial suggestion was to build a new high-rise bridge for the commuter rail service. Imagine a bridge like the 17th Street Causeway cutting through our downtown. History has shown that communities suffer when such decisions are made. Many are now trying to undo that harm.
A bridge would cleave our downtown in two just as it is undergoing a transformative redevelopment into a modern urban center. In addition, the site of the proposed joint county-city government campus would sit hard against the bridge, damaging its potential as an iconic centerpiece of a revitalized downtown.
Our historic district would be obscured in the shadows of the train trestles running overhead. Fort Lauderdale’s historic minority community surrounding Sistrunk Boulevard would be split off from the eastside just as community redevelopment efforts are creating a renaissance there and linking it with the growing Flagler Village neighborhood.