Wave Streetcar’s Future Now In Broward’s Hands

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Broward County commissioners must decide if Fort Lauderdale’s planned downtown electric streetcars are still the wave of the future — or if the county would be better off pulling their plug now.

State transportation officials need the county’s permission to seek new proposals for building the Wave streetcar system, which commissioners are to decide on Tuesday, Jan 23.

The effort to bring streetcars downtown goes back at least 15 years, but as the system has come closer to reality more people have questioned if they make sense. Among the chief concerns:

Rising Costs

The initial $142 million price tag has gone up to $195 million and construction proposals rejected in November would have pushed the price over $270 million. Transportation officials think they’ve made changes that will bring the project back within budget, including scaling back improvements to the Third Avenue Bridge for the streetcars to cross and greatly reducing the size of the planned vehicle maintenance facility. Critics are skeptical the needed savings can be obtained without significantly reducing the scope of the system.

Outdated Technology

While the Wave would be a modern streetcar, a light-rail system with vehicles that look more like trains than trolleys, critics say the future of transportation belongs to ride-sharing companies like Uber and automated technologies such as driverless buses and cars. The streetcars would still be connected to overhead power lines and would share a lane of traffic with other vehicles, doing little to relieve congestion. Also, since the streetcars run on a fixed rail embedded into the street, they’re stuck if something is blocking the lane in front of them.

Limited Route

The 2.8-mile system doesn’t bring people into downtown but helps them get around if they’re already there. The Wave is basically a loop providing access to the Broward County Courthouse and other governmental buildings, Himmarshee Village, the new Brightline train station, the main Bus Terminal, Broward Health Medical Center and the start of East Las Olas Boulevard.

“People that want to live or visit a city like Fort Lauderdale want to be in an energetic forward-thinking city. The Wave is the exact opposite of what we need,” Lynn Spaugh a city resident and retired Stiles Corp. vice president, wrote in an email to county commissioners. “It is already antiquated thinking.”

Proponents say trying to predict the future is a guessing game and the Wave project is an investment that’s ready to go with tough-to-get federal backing. The things they want county officials to consider include:

The Big Picture

The Wave project may only extend near Andrews Avenue from Northeast Sixth Street to Southeast 17th Street, but the county has grander plans for tying it into a larger system. The expectations are that it will reach out to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Port Everglades and an educational campus in Davie. New streetcar lines are proposed to run on Broward Boulevard, State Road 7, University Drive and extend out to Sawgrass Mills mall in Sunrise.

Economic Stimulus

The streetcar system supports economic development along its route, to the tune of about $3 billion so far, proponents say. Downtown Fort Lauderdale has seen a crush of activity with the promise of the Wave and future extensions are expected to encourage a concentration of residential and commercial development along those routes. In downtown Fort Lauderdale, officials hope the project will kick-start development along South Andrews Avenue.

Federal Backing

The Wave has received $82.7 million in federal funds. To turn that down now would give the city and county a black eye that could hurt attempts to acquire federal grants for other projects. In addition, much of the money already spent on the project — more than $23 million as of July — might have to be repaid.

“The city needs a base public transportation network to support the growth the city is experiencing,” said city resident Martin Moller in an email asking commissioners to back the Wave. “Although the Wave does not nearly include the necessary routes and area of a good public transportation system, it does serve as a starting point — it needs to be expanded quickly.”

 

Source: SunSentinel

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