The creation of a 27-mile corridor for commuter rail service through Miami-Dade and Broward counties has been in the works for several years. Various components of the project are being worked on simultaneously and this includes developing a plan for trains to cross over or under the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Studies for New River Crossing
For the commuter rail project to become reality, trains need to be able to traverse the New River with minimal or no delay. Currently there is only one, old narrow railroad bridge going across the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
The current bridge must be raised numerous times a day to allow tall boats to pass under it. For the commuter trains to run efficiently, the bridge must be replaced, either with a higher bridge or by tunneling underneath the New River.
I recently spoke with Phil Schwab, the In-House Consultant Project Manager with (FDOT) to find out the current status on this vital part of the project.
I asked Mr. Schwab what the current status is on the New River bridge or tunnel piece of the project. Mr. Schwab informed me that in the last year, Broward Commuter Rail has been holding Public Alternatives Workshops which are open to the public.
A public kickoff meeting was held in August 2021 and over 300 people participated. A second meeting was held in December of 2021 and there are meetings planned for this month as referenced above.
At these meetings, the project team explained the Project Development and Environment study was the project team explained the PD&E process and the attendant analyses related to the study. More information and recordings are available on the project website.
Click here to register to attend the up and coming meetings where you can voice your opinion.
New River Crossing Alternatives
Currently there are four possible options for crossing the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. A new low-level bascule bridge, a mid-level bascule bridge, a high-level fixed bridge or a tunnel.
Each option comes with its positives and negatives depending on your own opinion. See the table below for the different considerations related to each alternative. Cost is also a major component to whatever option is ultimately chosen.
Mr. Schwab stated that funding is one of the most important pieces of the entire puzzle. Once an alternative has been selected and is approved by the Broward County Commission, it must receive an endorsement from the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Once the MPO has provided their endorsement, the project then moves into a preliminary development stage with the Florida Department of Transportation.
The cost of the project must be covered by the participating funding sources and those costs must be realistic for the project to be feasible.
Elon Musk’s The Boring Company Gets Involved
Recently an unsolicited proposal was submitted by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company (TBC). Some conversation took place at that time between TBC and Broward Commuter Rail but as of now there has been no further contact between TBC and BCR.
Various costs associated with the boring of a tunnel under the river have been put out by some elected officials. However, according to Mr. Schwab, those numbers reflect only the boring and construction of the basic shell of the tunnel and not the total costs to complete the guts of the project.
TBC has developed smaller tunnels for car traffic but not a tunnel of this size for a commuter train. As of this writing, no further conversations have taken place with TBC.
Costs and Issues to Be Considered
Each of the bridge options has its own costs and technical issues to consider, and these will be discussed in detail at the January meetings.
I asked Mr. Schwab how many additional trains would be added to this line once the project is complete. Mr. Schwab estimated that 58 additional high-speed trains (like Tri Rail Trains) would be added. These trains would run between 5:00am and Midnight. Trains would run every 30 minutes during peak times and every 60 minutes during off peak hours.
I also asked Mr. Schwab if a final, concrete decision has been made on the location of commuter train stations/platforms in the two counties. At this point, only recommendations have been made to the Broward County Commission. The Commission must vote to approve those recommendations. So, no final decision has been made yet.
Join Alternatives Public Workshop
There will be a virtual Alternatives Public Workshop held by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on January 27,2022. One at 3:00pm and one at 6:30pm. There will also be an in-person session at 6:30pm on January 31, 2022.
You may register to attend either of the virtual sessions or the in-person session on the FDOT website.
In addition to the public meetings scheduled this month, you can also register on the FDOT website for their monthly newsletter, meeting notifications and other train related news so you are always in the know.