South Florida continues work aimed at solving traffic woes

South Florida continues work aimed at solving traffic woes

Writer: Joshua Andino

5 min read March 2023 — South Florida ranks amongst the worst in the country for traffic, leaving many long-time residents and new arrivals asking when any potential relief could be on the way. While there are a number of road improvements and widenings currently in process across the region, a growing emphasis has been placed on long-term multimodal transportation.  From Palm Beach County to Broward and Miami Dade, Invest: explores some of the largest projects, transit expansions and efforts to get people out of the car and to their destinations. 

Palm Beach County’s Light Rail Transit

South Florida may start to see its first official light-rail transit system developed in Palm Beach. While still in its preliminary planning stages, the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (TPA) is considering LRT for the Okeechobee boulevard and SR7 corridor. The reportopens PDF file , released at the end of last year, notes the corridor’s rapid redevelopment for both residential and commercial uses and its increased traffic as the underlying reasons for a new way of getting around. The project would connect downtown West Palm Beach – with its connection to Brightline and Tri-Rail, to the Wellington Mall, connecting Wellington and Royal Palm Beach alongside the 13.5-mile stretch. 

In a conversation with Invest: last year, Valerie Neilson, executive director of the Palm Beach TPA, said, “Mode shift is key to the success of our urbanized area. Shifting single-occupancy vehicle trips to other modes, such as walking, bicycling, and taking transit helps improve the transportation system for everyone, including drivers, primarily by reducing congestion.”

The proposed system would run along the roadway median and include 17 stations, from the Square in West Palm to the Mall itself, while providing opportunities for more dense housing and commercial development. Neilson explained the agency had been taking notes from similar projects across the U.S., citing Phoenix as an example where a comprehensive transit system could yield multiple billions in ROI. “They faced challenges and pushbacks; however, the benefits were huge. It cost approximately $2 billion to implement their first light rail line but 10 years later, a report showed that it resulted in $12 billion worth of economic development investments in the corridor after implementation. It also resulted in a 487% increase in ridership, 25% increase in graduation rates, creation of jobs and affordable housing units, as well as benefits to the environment and the community’s quality-of-life.”

With a feasibility study expected for 2025, the LRT system would take about 10 years to build, but provide necessary relief to an area that sees about 70,000 cars a day. The current preliminary study estimates a tram could provide 10-minute headways while capable of moving about 3,600 passengers throughout the system, whereas the nearest alternative, a dedicated-lane BRT system, would only be able to move about 960 passengers. 

Broward County Commuter Rail 

As the whole South Florida region continues to grow, north-south connectivity has become increasingly critical. Congestion along I-95 has spurred local officials to consider expanding commuter rail options along the FEC corridor that runs parallel to the east of the highway. Currently, Brightline operates its high-speed inter-city rail connecting the downtowns of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, while Tri-Rail provides local commuter services to the area west of I-95.

Broward officials are moving forward with their end of a commuter rail link along the FEC corridor up until the New River Bridge, where disagreement between local and state officials over whether to replace the bridge with a tunnel have been critical to existing and future rail development. Should the city develop the tunnel, Brightline would likely have to reconstruct and go underground for its current station in the city, which stands little more than two blocks north of the river. 

City of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis explained to Invest: the city’s need to avoid marine-traffic congestion as rail usage ramped up across the current low-lying bridge. “We need to ensure the plan does not impede the flow of street-level traffic on main east-west corridors downtown and that it does not adversely impact the marine industry as it depends on the easy use of the New River.” He added, “So, we’re looking to build a tunnel through the middle of the city that’ll allow the local commuter line to go through the city without interference. These projects are great opportunities for us to move forward as a 22nd-century city.”

The New River bridge tunnel remains a high priority as the current drawbridge, built in 1978, begins to show its age. Last month, a malfunction caused an hours-long delay for both boaters and passengers, further highlighting the city’s need for a solution, with Mayor Trantalis telling the Sun Sentinel the current bridge’s issues underscored the need and viability of a tunnel that would provide a higher degree of service with fewer issues. “We need to have a tunnel because the train system must not be frustrated by the issue of the waterway,” he said.

Miami-Dade Baylink

Unlike Palm Beach and Broward County, Miami stands apart as already having a relatively comprehensive public transportation network. A county bus system, local municipal trolley networks, an elevated heavy-rail system and the urban core’s automated Metromover provide multiple options to get around. However, a lack of cohesion amongst the region’s disparate networks make it a difficult and otherwise inefficient system to navigate. 

To help address the challenge, the county-wide SMART plan identifies six corridors of multimodal transit development to help alleviate traffic. The Northeast corridor is well underway and includes the Brightline and Miami-Dade’s commuter rail connection to Broward. The southern corridor has moved forward with securing the electric buses that will provide a BRT link to far-away Homestead and Florida City, with the stations under construction. The most controversial plan now moving forward is the Beach Corridor, and specifically the Baylink connection to Miami Beach via the Miami Metromover. 

County Mayor Daniella Levine-Cava announced in November the one-seat solution as the result of community feedback and a break with the previous administration’s monorail plans, alongside an accelerated timeline that would see the new solution negotiated by Oct. 2023, construction by 2025, and operations by 2029. The Baylink would be the largest part of the Beach Corridor project, while a second expansion – the Miami Corridoropens PDF file , would extend the Metromover to Wynwood, Midtown and the Design District at NW 41st street along North Miami Avenue.

The Baylink connection has elicited strong reactions from Miami Beach residents, with local community organizations assembling both for and against the project. Fisher Island, the wealthy enclave accessible only by ferry, sent a letter to the county and coastguard calling the project “unlawful and short-sighted.” According to the letter, the county has not conducted sufficient environmental reviews in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), arguing the current Draft Environmental Assessmentopens PDF file only reviewed impacts on the trunkline – the connection between Miami Beach and the mainland. 

In an earlier conversation with Invest:,  Eulois Cleckley, director and CEO of the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works, explained he was confident county and local stakeholders could meet the challenges provided by timely delivery and community alignment, saying, “Miami-Dade County is no different from any other transit agency throughout the country. Capital projects take quite a bit of time to plan, design and build. If you are not engaged with the specific details of how to deliver those projects, you may question why it takes so long.” He added, “The projects are beginning to better align with all  the stakeholders involved, so we can keep a steady schedule moving forward. Projects get off schedule when there is a misalignment in the steps of project delivery. We have done a good job on staying focused, so we can align all of our priorities. I am confident that as we move forward and accelerate more projects, we will meet the projected timelines for the benefit of the residents of Miami-Dade County.” 

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