More than four years ago, when Congress passed the Obama stimulus, nobody in Fort Lauderdale would have imagined that a ripple effect from the legislation might become a "Wave" for Broward County commuters and businesses.
"This is the beginning," said Diana Alarcon, director of the city's transportation and mobility department, smiling as she described the new Wave streetcar project for downtown Fort Lauderdale during a recent public workshop in Oakland Park.
The city's vision for a streetcar system took shape more than 10 years ago and took off in 2010 when federal and state transit authorities entered the planning process, wanting to expand the system county-wide.
But the clincher came in 2011, when Fort Lauderdale won an $18 million federal grant that grew out of a U.S. fiscal stimulus after the Wall Street financial crisis sparked a U.S. economic meltdown.
The Wave is expected to resemble modern streetcars that are currently in service in Portland, Oregon, a modern transit system city development officials on both coasts credit for producing an abundance of economic, social and health benefits for local residents.
Fort Lauderdale's new streetcar network is expected to form the core of an emerging county transit system linking the downtown area to not only the rest of Broward's largest city, but eventually the entire county and region. By 2040, a good number of South Floridians may be able to hop on public transit within walking distance of places they frequent and commute to popular destinations without needing a car.
State and regional transportation authorities have been providing Fort Lauderdale officials all kinds of help with planning in order to capitalize on rail and commuter lines already in place, including Tri-Rail and the Florida East Coast rail line, to which a second railroad may be added for passenger traffic.
Ron Centamore is a civic leader and downtown Fort Lauderdale resident who attended the recent public workshop. He remembers growing up in New York City's Brooklyn borough in the 1940s and 50s when people like his father rode trolley cars to work.
"There was no wait time," says Centamore. "My dad didn't own a car until I was six or seven years old" and then once he owned a car, Centamore says, its only real use came from family road trips to the Catskill Mountains about 60 miles north of the Big Apple.
Once the Wave streetcar is built, Broward County will own and operate the system for 25 years.
Construction is set to begin in 2014.