MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Miami Beach city commissioners said Wednesday that they can’t yet commit to a Miami-Dade County plan to expand the Metromover system to traffic-clogged South Beach without more information, as opposition mounts from some residents — and non-residents.
The “Baylink” expansion would bring the already-existing downtown Miami Metromover system to South Beach. Since the system is connected to Miami-Dade’s Metrorail, it would allow residents and visitors to travel from Miami International Airport to Miami Beach via rail.
Commissioners considered whether to throw their support behind the $1 billion Baylink project at a meeting Wednesday, where numerous supporters and opponents spoke.
Opponents say they’re concerned about an expansion increasing density and crime and harming the environment.
They mainly comprise of Miami Beach neighborhood groups, as well as residents of Fisher Island, known as one of America’s richest zip codes.
A group representing residents of the wealthy unincorporated enclave recently sent a letter to the U.S. Coast Guard asking it to evaluate the Baylink plan.
At Wednesday’s meeting, one detractor said he was “skeptical of the investment.”
A petition against the proposal calls the Baylink plan, in part, “a white elephant that will have serious impact (sic) on Biscayne Bay environment/endangered coral/struggling sea grass, manatee health, and cause years of traffic issues with additional lanes closure for construction and staging.”
A group calling itself “Save SoFi” tweeted that the potential for higher-density zoning around the transit project, under county rules, could “irreversibly change” the city’s character.
Transit advocates, however, are urging city and county officials to ignore the naysayers and move forward with the project.
“It’s not moving cars, it’s moving people,” Matthew Gultanoff, the founder of Better Streets Miami Beach, said. “There’s a large group of folks in Miami Beach and Miami who are interested and want to see this built.”
Gultanoff has spent time advocating for the Baylink project on Twitter.
“Imagine spending almost 1+ hour crossing the MacArthur Causeway like this (photo of packed bus). The folks on Fisher Island, South of Fifth, and on West Avenue opposing Baylink don’t have to,” Better Streets Miami Beach tweeted Tuesday. “They also don’t have the right to stop progress to fix the mobility crisis on Miami Beach.”
Better Streets Miami Beach has started a petition of its own calling on city and county leaders to hold the line, chastising opponents’ calls for more time and studies as “classic delay tactics” designed to imperil the project.
“Miami-Dade is suffering from both an affordable housing crisis and a traffic crisis,” the petition reads. “At the same time, both Miami Beach and the mainland communities are investing in diversifying our industries and commerce. Baylink would provide Miami Beach residents access to a broader range of jobs without requiring them to suffer through traffic that keeps getting worse.”
Commissioners wouldn’t take sides on the Baylink plan Wednesday, saying they needed more time to evaluate it before deciding whether to support it.
“We need to understand the potential zoning implications and what it would mean for the density of our city,” Commissioner Steven Meiner said.
Commissioner Alex Fernandez acknowledged that Miami Beach is in “gridlock” right now and “urgently needs public transportation alternatives,” but said “they need to be smartly thought out with public input.”
If the county moves forward with the project, officials expect construction to begin in 2025 with an estimated completion date of 2029.
As for the dueling online petitions, nearly 680 people had signed opponents’ “Rethink the Baylink,” petition, while supporters’ “Build the Baylink” petition had nearly double the signatures, numbering more than 1,320 as of Wednesday evening.