FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The mayor of Fort Lauderdale and officials in Broward County are at odds over the best way to handle expanded rail operation by Brightline — and proposed future commuter rail service — across the New River in the middle of town.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports Mayor Dean Trantalis wants the current drawbridge replaced by a tunnel, which would cost $3 billion but Trantalis says would be the best long-term option for downtown. But the county commission prefers a bridge, which would cost significantly less — $303 million to $572 million, depending on design.
Trains currently cross the river on a drawbridge completed in 1978, replacing a Florida East Coast Railway structure dating to 1912. But the increased frequency of Brightline trains with service now operating to Orlando — and a proposed commuter rail operation slated to begin construction in 2025 — is an issue for marine traffic, leading to the push to replace the current bridge with something that would be less disruptive for boaters.
A tunnel would have to burrow 66 feet below the mean high-water level of the river, would be 3.5 miles long, and would require an underground station. It would take more than 10 years to build and cost more than $3 billion to maintain over a 50-year period, in addition to the $3 billion in construction costs.
Meanwhile, a bridge with 56½ of vertical clearance, which would eliminate the need for openings, would be 2.5 miles long, take 8½ years to build, and cost $80.7 million to maintain over the 50-year period, according to consultant Whitehouse Group. A mile-long bridge with 25 feet of clearance, which would still require some openings, would take 7½ years to build and cost $45.7 million to maintain.
The county commission clearly favors the bridge, the Sun Sentinel reports, even though Commission John Herbst said a tunnel is likely the better option, but not from a cost standpoint. Current plans call for the federal government to pay for 50% of the project with the county and state to each pay 25%.
Trantalis, when asked if the city would have design input on a bridge, told the newspaper, “There will be no bridge, so I’m not even going to answer that question.” City commissioners will address the issue at a Nov. 7 meeting, then meet with the county commissioners at a still undetermined date.
But Herbst noted that it’s ultimately the county’s decision because of its financial role. “I think we lack the financial resources [for a tunnel],” he said. “Everything is a matter of money. Time and money.”