Florida and railroads seem to go hand-in-hand. It was, after all, Henry Flagler’s vision and money that extended rail down the east coast of the peninsula and helped turn South Florida into South Florida with a capital “S.” With the completion of that essential mode of transportation, developers, investors, and residents soon flooded the state and transformed the land of sun and sand.
New forms of rail are being looked at as a potential solution for moving a huge number of people and easing the state’s growing traffic congestion problem – while also inviting development and investments. Complicating this effort is a complex debate, as rail also happens to be one of the most hotly-contested topics when it comes to city planning.
Tri-Rail, which was authorized by the Florida Legislature in 1989, has been the single link for commuters and tourists traveling between the state’s three most populated counties. Then came talk of a high-speed rail line to link South Florida’s major hubs with Orlando – and Brightline was born.
It’s been a rocky road for the line. Priding itself on speed, comfort, and cleanliness, Brightline also comes with a hefty price tag that includes an expensive fare for riders and a list of unexpected fatalities. Brightline was not cited in the deaths, however, and more than half were ruled suicides.
Despite these early challenges, many investors are maintaining a positive feeling toward the opportunities the rail service can bring. Development projects continue to line up in close proximity to Brightline’s three stations, located in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. All three downtown areas are looking at new residential, retail, and office expansions.
The latest news has Brightline partnering with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. The rail service’s new name will be Virgin Trains USA. In addition, the new brand filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a publicly-traded company.
With two north-south rail lines now operating, next comes the question of how to move people east and west or even how to bring them to other major areas of the cities. For example, once a traveler arrives at one of the three Brightline stations, they now have to rely on walking, rental cars, public transportation alternatives, or a ride-sharing app to further navigate each region. This, in combination with expanding downtown areas, has city officials and developers looking at light rail systems.
In Fort Lauderdale, that meant The Wave. And, yes, that’s past tense because, in May 2018, the whole plan collapsed. Critics argued the idea was obsolete before it even broke ground, saying that travelers would more likely use ride-sharing apps or driverless vehicles. There was also concern the system failed to connect downtown with the airport and seaport.
Developers had been counting on the rail system, which would have linked key areas of the city’s downtown. In fact, many of the projects, already begun before the rail project was nixed, were located near planned Wave stations. Nevertheless, developers remain positive that the loss of The Wave will not deter an expected population surge; it just means a greater strain on the current public transportation system and overly-congested roadways.
Meanwhile, Miami has had a 16-year light rail fight on its hands. The battle began in 2002 when a half-cent sales tax was instituted to extend the Metrorail system into south Miami-Dade. The money, however, was redirected to the Miami-Dade bus system.
In September 2018, a vote by the regional Transportation Planning Organization provided support for the county’s bus rapid transit system or BRT. The line will provide a linkage via US 1 to Florida City. Rather than rail, a new fleet of buses with doors wide enough to allow multiple passengers to enter and exit would operate on 20 miles of existing, dedicated bus lanes. Fourteen stations along the route would provide services.
For as long as trains have been traveling down the Florida peninsula, so to have developers and investors. It’s unfortunate that so many ideas seem to be bogged down in battles, whether the proposed public transit system operates on rail or rubber. The idea is to think and move forward to solve SoFlo’s transportation issues.
Fortunately, South Florida’s culture and climate remain an attractive lure for many, and development is following suit.
For a free consultation or to learn more about Morris Southeast Group’s property investment opportunities and/or other services, call us at 954.474.1776. You can also reach Ken Morris directly at 954.240.4400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.