A plan to build a streetcar route in downtown Fort Lauderdale inched forward last month when the city and county councils voted to approve the project.
Jenni Morejon, executive director of the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority, says the Wave Streetcar will offer advantages over the area’s existing bus system.
“They have to compliment one another, but definitely in terms of moving people, a large number — over 150 people can ride on a streetcar,” Morejon (@jennimorejon) tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson. “When you have rails that are installed in the ground, there’s that long-term certainty that there’s going to be the public transit infrastructure for many, many years to come.”
On why a streetcar
“Mainly mobility, No. 1. Streetcars can move a high number of individuals in kind of tight, compact, urban settings. It integrates well into kinda the built fabric, and really downtown Fort Lauderdale, it was on the verge of seeing a lot of new redevelopment. But yet there were some areas that were kind of left behind, but had some major employment generators. And so the thought was that a streetcar could connect these emerging districts and really set the course for a new mode of public transit in a region that doesn’t really see much but for buses.”
On the cost of adding a streetcar
“The capital cost of any kind of rail system is always going to be more expensive than bus systems. However, over the long term, the development that happens along these routes really help provide revenue streams that help support the long-term [operations and maintenance]. So there’s that economic development benefit, but also, the longevity of a rail system. You’re replacing the vehicles at much less frequencies than rubber-tire systems like buses.”
On why the project has taken so long to get going
“Oh, my gosh. We asked that question every day. Time is the enemy on big projects. Almost 70 percent of the project funding came from either the state government or the federal government. So there were a series of two major federal grants that were awarded here for The Wave streetcar, and those grants from the Federal Transit Administration require detailed planning and studies to be done, alternatives analysis, environmental assessments, and those take time.
“And then another big aspect is, in South Florida — even though we have a significant population, we’re a significant tourist destination, there’s density and everything — there’s really not a collective group that wakes up every day implementing these kind of transit systems. So it took a major partnership. The DDA, my agency, we really conceived this idea, but then we brought in Broward County, who has committed to be the owner and operator. It is the city of Fort Lauderdale’s, in terms of the downtown location as a start. So they’re a financial contributor and a partner in this. And then most recently, the Florida Department of Transportation has taken over as project manager. So in some regards, having all of these partners has really helped make sure that this project gets going. But at the same time, when you have so many different agencies involved, it takes a series of steps and coordinated efforts, and that can sometimes drag out the time.”
On those critical of the streetcar running in streets alongside traffic, its use of overhead wires and cost
“In terms of the cost, as we mentioned, there’s about 70 percent of the project funding that is not coming from the local taxpayers, the local governments. And we’re really not going to see that return on investment for any other type of transit system. And as we all know, technology’s evolving at such a rapid pace, we definitely anticipate that as this system gets built, and then the county has plans to build almost 30 miles of light rail over the next 20 years, that the potential and likelihood that the wires will come down and this will be, you know, a fully off-wire system, will be there. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start. And that’s really our biggest push at this point.”
On traffic emerging as a larger concern among Florida residents
“You know I think what happens is, when the pace of change happens so dramatically and you get used to, what used to be a 10-minute ride now becoming 15 minutes, or a 30-minute commute becoming 45 minutes, it does have kind of a real, tangible sense of change to your lifestyle. We’ve seen the dramatic growth in Miami, downtown Fort Lauderdale and West Palm [Beach], really over just the past 10 to 15 years. And so I think again that pace of change is perhaps what is challenging a lot of folks that may have come here, may have even grown up, lived here, made their lives here, but aren’t necessarily anticipating how growth is occurring.”