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Ft. Lauderdale to bring light rail to downtown

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Look what I found. This is exciting, especially the parts about increased development downtown.

Their website, but no info there yet: http://www.ddaftlaud.com/

Downtown Fort Lauderdale light-rail project unveiled

By Brittany Wallman

Staff Writer

Posted June 11 2004

FORT LAUDERDALE -- In a boardroom 300 feet over downtown Fort Lauderdale, the county's first light-rail project emerged Thursday: a pair of downtown loops on a free, modern, fun-looking vehicle.

After more than two years of talk, reports, congressional lobbying and consultant contracts, the Downtown Development Authority's plan to pull drivers off the roads has finally gelled.

The quasi-governmental DDA, a taxing authority, hopes to slip into place by 2007 a public transit option that would free downtown of the congestion redevelopment will bring.

"One of the things we can say to the public is we are doing something ... about this potential gridlock," said County Commissioner John Rodstrom, a guest at the DDA meeting. The county has agreed to operate the light-rail system, said Rodstrom and County Administrator Roger Desjarlais.

The rail project is expected to fit into the wider maze of transit that one day will allow drivers to become riders, with public transportation from Sunrise to downtown Fort Lauderdale to the airport and seaport and elsewhere.

"This would relieve people of having to drive anywhere," said Florida Department of Transportation Mobility Manager Jeff Weidner, who said the state would consider helping pay for the downtown people-mover.

At the same meeting in the AutoNation tower, the developer-led DDA voted to push for thousands more residential units in the ballooning downtown, arguing that more people are needed to bring their vision to life.

The DDA agreed Thursday to spend up to $25,000 writing a land-use plan amendment for the city of Fort Lauderdale, which can't afford to write the research-intensive document to allow another 13,000 to 18,000 residential units downtown. It then would need city, county and state approval.

Though high-density growth has been controversial in Fort Lauderdale, the city's recently approved Downtown Master Plan envisions the population of the urban core more than tripling. The approximately one dozen high-rises and scores of smaller redevelopment projects under construction downtown now and in the past several years brought only 5,100 new units.

Downtown leaders see the rail project as the missing amenity that must accompany heavy residential growth, which in turn, is key to the "Live, Work & Play" city center they advertise.

The light-rail system would stop every eight minutes to pick up passengers along Las Olas Boulevard and Southwest Second Street downtown -- a $12 million loop from the Performing Arts Center/Himmarshee entertainment district to Las Olas Boulevard at Federal Highway. The project would break ground in 2006 and open in 2007.

A second phase would loop Andrews Avenue and Third Avenue, from Sistrunk Boulevard down to Southeast Ninth Street. It would be complete in 2009 or 2010.

The rail cars would run on tracks laid in the roadway, but vehicles still could travel in the lanes. The rail cars haven't been selected, but DDA Executive Director Chris Wren said the board wants something modern, fun and unique.

To test the route, a rubber-tire trolley will begin, possibly as soon as next month, offering an evening and possibly a lunch loop, including on-board entertainment.

Both rail loops are expected to cost a total of $38 million. Of that, the federal government would pay half, and the state and the DDA would each pay a quarter. The DDA will request construction funding in 2006 but for now is working to qualify as a federal "New Starts" project, eligible to apply for money every year.

"We believe, particularly in talking to our congressional offices, everyone is extremely behind this project, from the federal government, the state, the county, the city, the DDA, the [Regional Transportation Authority,]" Wren said. "We think we're going to get our money."

Like most public transit, the rail system would operate at a loss. The county is expected to spend $1.5 million a year operating it.

The DDA board is made up of downtown businessmen, most of them developers with a financial stake in the success of the downtown. With the city of Fort Lauderdale paralyzed in a budget crisis, DDA filled the void, agreeing to pay for the planning and engineering studies; hiring consultants and lobbyists; even traveling to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago to firm up the deal.

"Because the city is going through leadership change and there's a vacuum," said Wren, a former top city planning manager, "DDA is percolating up to take care of that. We're brothers and sisters anyway."

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wow, talk about just doing it and gettig it done. That's pretty quick, and Fort Lauderdale really needs to get light rail going. Hopefully, more Florida cities (like Orlando, Tampa) will do the same instead of going through years of expensive studies and still doing nothing.

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Yes, it's really suprising that they're so decisive about it. I'm glad their just going for at grade light rail too. Cheap and quick.

I'll be on the lookout for renderings or more news.

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Congrats to Ft. Lauderdale! I really think that this system will be successful. Their's alot of people moving down there. I wish that they would eventually connect it to the Tri-Rail system. But, there's also the other set of rail lines that run through downtown. Eventually those will become a new commuter rail line. And the at-grade plan will be very sensible. Sometimes I wish Jacksonville would have used a light-rail system instead of the Skyway. But the elevated lines look cool, lol.

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