The Skyway plans

A current Skyway train at Central Station.

While Amtrak and the Emerald Trail have been left off the project list for the gas tax, another major transit major project will be soaking up a significant piece of the funding: JTA’s Skyway proposal. The “Ultimate Urban Circulator” or “U2C” plan would eventually replace the existing Skyway trains with autonomous vehicles that would then reach out on the street into a few other neighborhoods, including Springfield, San Marco and the Stadium District.

The Jaxson has criticized the U2C plan before in the past on several grounds, namely its capacity (the cars are smaller and slower than the current Skyway cars); lack of dedicated right of way (necessary for maintaining reliable service and generating new development on the route); its failure to reach into certain transit-dependent neighborhoods, and its terrible, terrible name. Now, the pricetag has become another major problem.

Skyway trains would be replaced with lower capacity vehicles as a part of the U2C conversion project.

The gas tax proposal dedicates fully $379 million of the $930 million to its Skyway plan. That means that, for the next 25 years, fully 85% of JTA’s share of the gas tax revenues and more than 40% of the total would go to this one project that is said to already have funding allocated to the construction of a three mile segment on Bay Street between LaVilla and TIAA Bank Field. There’s also no firm date for completion, as the technology is still evolving, but it’s possible it’ll be several years before you can take the Skyway to the stadium – if it ever comes together at all. All this should give anyone who cares about wise use of taxpayer dollars pause. In fact, Council Members including Matt Carlucci and LeAnna Cumber are rightfully asking questions. As Carlucci told The Florida Times-Union “If it turns into some kind of big drama, it may need to be downsized because I don’t want the Skyway taking down all the other gas tax projects.”

Other public transportation projects similar in scope to the Skyway proposal aren’t counting on all the money coming from a single local source. For example, a 13.5-mile commuter rail line with seven stations between Downtown Miami, Wynwood, the Design District and Aventura Mall is continuing to progress in South Florida. Miami-Dade County’s estimated contribution toward the project’s $345 million total construction is $162.25 million. The expectation is that FDOT and the Federal Transit Administration’s capital investment grant program will cover the remaining cost.

As such, reducing the ask for the Skyway in the gas tax proposal to, say, $190 million, wouldn’t necessarily stop it from happening, as other funding sources are available. However, this would mean there would be an additional $189 million in gas tax dollars available to help fund a variety of other meaningful projects throughout the city.

Reduce the risk, increase the impact

The proposed 30 mile Emerald Trail system will connect 14 urban core neighborhoods.

Reducing the Skyway ask would also free up potential revenue for the Emerald Trail and Amtrak, two projects with far less risk and far greater public buy-in, reach, return on investment and level of impact on quality of life. The gas tax is a badly needed investment, and fortunately, there’s a way to make it go even farther: making this simple change while everything’s still on nice, cheap paper.

The Atlanta BeltLine is an example of a trail project that has revamped the urban core of a major southern city.

Editorial by The Jaxson Magazine