Miami Beach Commission Expresses Concern Over Contentious Monorail Proposal

Jul 17, 2019
Originally published on July 17, 2019 11:17 pm

The Miami Beach city commission unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday that outlines its reservations about a proposed tax-funded transit system across Biscayne Bay linking the city with Miami.

The measure concerns the feasibility of the “baylink” transit service and the intentions of the Malaysian casino company, Genting, which submitted an unsolicited proposal to Miami-Dade County to build the system across Biscayne Bay. Miami Beach commissioners now await Miami-Dade's final decision on the project.

“This unsolicited bid has lit the fuse for this process,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told other commissioners. “I think it’s more important to get it done right then get it done fast.”

Lawmakers have discussed a baylink system since the 1980s. Genting’s proposal involves a four-mile monorail that would run from the start of the MacArthur Causeway in Miami to Miami Beach. Local and state governments would pay about $240 million of the $400 million project. Genting and its partners would pay the rest.

The proposal has prompted the county to open a bidding process that would allow other companies to submit plans for the project. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said he wants to limit the transit options for the system to a monorail, an extension of the county’s Metromover service or rapid transit buses — which travel along dedicated bus lanes.

The companies will have about six months to submit their proposals before the county decides to accept one or reject all of them and start again. 

Since its release about two months ago, the details of Genting’s proposal have remained confidential, leaving some Miami Beach officials wondering why a casino company would want to build the transit system. State law exempts Genting's proposal from open records laws until Miami-Dade formally invites competing bids. 

Genting owns the 14-acre property near the MacArthur causeway that was once the offices of the Miami Herald. The company has sought to build a gaming resort there and is seeking to change a state law that prohibits such a casino. 

Gelber and several commissioners said they fear Genting will build the baylink and then win approval for the casino resort. The transit system would start near the property and would feed right into the casino, they said.

“I have a hard time believing that Genting really wants to build this just because they want to create mass transit to help our communities,” Commissioner Michael Gongora said.

“If you marry a serial philanderer, don’t be surprised if your spouse cheats on you,” Gelber added. “We will have done a great disservice” if that happens.

Genting had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

In addition to the focus on the casino, Miami Beach seeks an intermodal hub near the end of the baylink where passengers can transfer to other modes of public transit. Other provisions in the resolution include a mandate that the system remain street level on Miami Beach, rather than above ground like the Metromover.

The resolution also calls on the company that builds the baylink to provide traffic mitigation during the construction process.

In an interview, Gelber said he remains concerned about where the baylink would end on Miami Beach. He disagrees with Genting’s idea of ending it on Fifth Street and Alton Road, an already-congested area near South Pointe Elementary School. He said he could prefer running the service up Washington Avenue.

“This is going to be a highly disruptive system to build, but it’s only going to be worth it if it actually moves our residents, our visitors, our tourists and our workers,” he said.