A new streetcar system is set to link a nearly 3-mile section of downtown Fort Lauderdale, and on Wednesday, the Department of Transportation gave the green light by providing millions of dollars for the project to get off the ground.
In the downtown area, one is bound to see cars, buses, trolleys and pedestrians. Now, streetcars can be added to the mix. The Wave, as it's called, is 10 years in the making and a move to modern rail transit, starting first in Fort Lauderdale.
"For an area like this, you're not going to add more roads, so you have to be thinking, 'How are we going to deal with the flow of traffic going forward?'" said Joseph Giulietti of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
The thinking is this: Five electric hybrid cars will make 10 stops along a 2.7-mile stretch starting at Broward General Medical Center on Andrews Avenue to the south and heading north to the Broward County Courthouse, Las Olas, the Riverfront and ending on the north end at Flagler Village. There will also be connections to the Broward County Bus Terminal and Tri-Rail.
It will all lead to a permanent urban transportation system modeled after the light rails in cities like Portland and San Diego.
Each of the streetcars can hold up to 135 people, and they will use a pre-existing lane of traffic, sharing the road with all other drivers. The Wave will run at the same speed that current city buses run, and the streetcar will receive priority when it comes to green lights, as they will be synchronized so that a new car is guaranteed to come by every 7.5 minutes.
"It's an economic development project, so this infrastructure will bring in more growth to downtown," said Chris Wren, executive director of Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority and champion for this project for the last decade.
That growth starts with the 800 jobs that will be created for construction and 150 permanent slots in the future. But, the price tag rings up to more than $140 million. The federal government has kicked in more than a third of the cost, while state, county and city transit funding, along with downtown assessments, pick up the rest.
For those who question the high price tag, Wren countered by saying, "It's on par with other rail investments in this country, and it's actually significantly cheaper when you consider widening roads."
"Just trying to add a lane to one of our interstates will cost you over $50 million a mile," he said.
And the Wave won’t just be a decongestion device. The hope is it will bring in and build more businesses at the same time.
"If they're picking up people along the way and they're coming around here, please come in for a slice," said Corey Goldstein of Downtown Pizzeria.
Construction is expected to begin next year, with everything up and running by 2015. The cost of a ride is expected to be less than $2.
Fort Lauderdale and transit leaders hope this is just the beginning, since they see this as a regional system. In fact, they already have plans in place to extend the streetcar system to cities way out west if the downtown loop proves successful.