Transit Hard Numbers

By John Dorschner

     A transit board on Thursday heard hard numbers on how  properties near new corridors for rail or express bus might be willing to pay hundreds of millions because the new lines would enhance property values.
      More hard numbers appear to coming soon, with the county preparing detailed assessments of costs and ridership along proposed corridors -- information expected to be released in a major transit report from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez later this month.
      Such details will be clearly welcome in the desperate discussions to reduce traffic woes that include tons of ideas -- but very little specific finance information.
Paul Schwiep

      "These are feasible and digestible ways of doing transit without imposing too much pain on Miami-Dade taxpayers," said Paul Schwiep, chairman of the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) after hearing a report by IMG Rebel on "Value Capture Analysis of Priority Corridors."
    "The numbers are staggering and the potential is tremendous," said Charles Scurr, CITT's executive director.
    Scurr tasked the Maryland consulting firm with analyzing properties, their assessed value and type on a half-mile swath on each side of proposed transit corridors.
Charles Scurr

    Thursday's report dealt with the east-west link aside 836 from Miami International Airport to SW 137th Avenue; the Miami and Miami Beach sides of BayLink; the Kendall Drive corridor stretching from Dadeland to SW 167th Avenue; and a northeast corridor for Tri-Rail's proposed Coastal Link, generally running along US 1 from downtown to Aventura.
    Sasha Page, IMG Rebel's senior vice president, said analysis of other major corridors will be coming up soon.
    The report focuses on many possibilities for funding:
    *  Joint development, such as a builder putting up a structure around a rail station.
    * Assessment districts (ADs) -- based on either a small percentage of property tax or per square foot of floor area.
    *  Tax increment finance (TIF) -- based on countywide property tax rates and or city property taxes, perhaps through an entity something like a Community Redevelopment Agency, which now exist in Omni, Overtown and other areas.
    *  Parking surcharges -- using part of an area's metered or lot parking to help fund transit.
    * Naming rights -- Page suggested that Baptist Hospital might pay to have a station on Kendall Drive named for it -- or perhaps even the entire Kendall corridor.
    * Impact fees or developer contributions -- because rail lines enhance a property's value.
    * Tolls -- On the east-west corridor, getting Miami-Dade Expressway to help pay since a rail line along side 836 would reduce traffic on the expressway.
    ADs or TIFs, for example, could pay for 25 or 50 percent of Miami Beach's part of BayLink, Page said.
    Here in detail is one analysis -- the oft-discussed east-west corridor that would run from the Miami Intermodal Center at the airport to SW 137th Avenue along the CSX tracks.

Property types in a half-mile swath on either side of the proposed East-West Corridor

    By assessed valuation, commercial property in the half-mile east-west swatch accounts for 32 percent, office 11 percent, industrial 3 percent, residential 37 percent and government 15 percent (mostly the airport itself).
    By floor area, commercial is 28 percent, office 12 percent, residential 45 percent and government 9 percent. 

    An assessment district adding 10 cents to 50 cents per $1,000 assessment value could generate $8 million to $56 million in bonds for the east-west corridor. Since present property taxes run about $4.66 per $1,000, a transit corridor increment would be tiny, Page said.
    An assessment based on square footage of a dime to 50 cents a square foot could lead to up to $455 million in bondable value. A TIF might generate bonds of $981 million.  

    Scurr said Thursday he wanted to make clear that CITT was not advocating a broad property tax, but getting targeted areas to agree to an incremental contribution based on what a transit line would do to boost their property values -- which IMG Rebel estimated to be at least 10 percent. 

     Scurr said the IMG Rebel report dealt with "only part of the puzzle ... We [could] have state funding, federal, PTP [half-penny sales tax], but this really has the potential to really add to the mix."
    Scurr said a consensus is needed on how to proceed along each corridor -- and each corridor might have different funding solutions. 
    He said the IMG report is "technologically neutral" -- meaning it doesn't favor light rail or bus express, though virtually everyone agrees that elevated heavy rail -- like Metrorail -- is out of the question.
    IMG's Page said there were precedents in New York and other places for MDX, which generates huge sums from expressway tolls, to contribute to the east-west line -- a statement that led one CITT board member to wisecrack, "Has anyone told MDX that?"
    MDX spends billions on expanding roads and building gargantuan interchanges, but has firmly and repeatedly said it now has no money for mass transit.
     Also at Thursday's CITT committee meetings, Monica
Monica Cejas
Cejas, county transit's chief of planning and system development, said that the department, led by Alice Bravo, is preparing a detailed analysis that the mayor will announce at the end of this month.

     The report will detail capital costs of building on each corridor by mode (light rail, express bus, etc.), along with estimated operating and maintenance costs, estimated ridership for each corridor and a cost-benefit analysis.
    Those numbers are likely to be heavily scrutinized. In the late 1970s, consultants predicted that Metrorail would be carrying 225,000 daily by the mid-1980s. In fact, in 1985, the rail was carrying 20,000 daily. Now, it's about 75,000 daily.
    Operations and maintenance is also a key -- Metrorail was built mostly with federal dollars, but there were no new local funds created to operate it -- a situation that has led to the county continuing to struggle with its transit budget.
    A corridor-by-corridor assessment might add a dash of reality for politicians, many of whom are insisting that all corridors must be given top priority.

              A Plan for All Corridors at Same Time

       Last week, County Commissioner Dennis Moss, chair of the MPO's transit solutions committee, which has been assigned to coming up with a countywide plan, said after hearing the BayLink plan, the committee's task is "to do a plan for all of these corridors. ... I'm not going to support a plan that's ... just for this corridor. Everything has to move forward at the same time."
    That would imply huge funds will need to be spent on expanding mass transit -- in a county where there has been very little spent on it in the past three decades.

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