An ordinance that would change land use regulations to make way for a potential train station was tabled at this week’s marathon Wilton Manors commission meeting.
Ordinance No. 2021-011 from the Community Development Services Department amends land use regulations for a planned train station development. It was tabled after first reading shortly after the clock struck midnight on the June 22 meeting.
For quite some time there has been talk of commuter rail service coming to Wilton Manors. At the May 25 commission meeting, City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson gave an update on the prospects of a commuter rail station.
“The county and FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] think they are moving with intensity and enthusiasm and are prepared to kick off public discussions at the end of summer,” Henderson said.
Studies and technical analysis have been going on for years. The original plan was to route passengers from Jupiter to Miami and back on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The proposal called for 25 stations along the 85-mile route.
Then Brightline entered the picture. The privately funded company offered express train service and built sleek stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Ben Porritt, senior vice president of Corporate Affairs at Brightline, said it appears all of the stakeholders are at the table and a deal is within reach.
“We’re providing the tracks to lift up commuter rail,” Porritt said.
Preliminary station screening began more than 10 years ago looking at Aventura to Deerfield Beach with a Tri-Rail cross-over in Pompano Beach.
Nine areas in Broward County were studied for six stations. Three areas are called paired stations. Wilton Manors and Oakland Park are paired together and ultimately one station will be recommended by FDOT to Broward County.
Henderson said FDOT is running technical analysis through 2022 and drafting a financial plan to present at the end of the year.
Wilton Manors Commissioner Mike Bracchi said the city needs to step up its public relations efforts.
“Oakland Park always seems to be one step ahead,” Bracchi said. “We need to have a good PR campaign that’s putting Wilton Manors out there as the destination.”
Bracchi said talk of a Wilton Manors train station is exciting. “It would be really good for our city,” he added.
Several residents voiced support for train travel at the June 22 meeting, but were not convinced it would become a reality in the Island City.
“I support commuter rail on the FEC tracks but am doubtful we will have a train station in our city,” said Paul Kuta.
Henderson said changes in density to the land-use code and being three miles from the downtown Fort Lauderdale station fit perfectly in the FDOT plan.
Mayor Scott Newton said Wilton Manors has people interested in train travel and the city’s transit-oriented corridors (TOCs) provide an added boost.
“I think we have more people that would ride it now,” Newton said. “The TOCs we have now make a big difference.”
At the June 22 meeting, former mayor John Fiore said Wilton Manors was the first city to fund the county’s initial light rail study decades ago. Fiore said the proposed station site south of Northeast 26th Street is the “wrong location.”
Meanwhile, Broward Mayor Steve Geller said the decision on where to place the station is on hold until the coastal link can get across the New River.
“The bigger issue is there is a river in the way,” Geller said.
A standoff over how to get over the New River and not shut down the region’s vital marine industry has rendered the competition for stations a sideshow.
“You can’t decide where to put something until you figure out how to do it,” he said.
There are two schools of thought on the New River crossing. One camp is advocating for a bridge, while another wants a tunnel. Geller said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis is “vehemently opposed” to a bridge. Fort Lauderdale officials have been courting The Boring Company, founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, for tunnel construction.
“We don’t know how it would work,” Geller said. “We’re really the guinea pig here. Our engineers are telling us this has been designed before for cars but not trains.”
Boring’s current tunnel designs in California and Nevada have involved working with rock as opposed to Florida’s coral.
“You don’t have to dig very deep here before you hit the water table,” Geller said.
The New River Crossing Feasibility Study offered three different bridge heights: 80, 56.5, and 21 feet and a tunnel 63 feet underground.
“We all recognize the need for an alternative crossing,” said Porritt.
Porritt declined to give his preference on the four options for crossing the New River as did Tri-Rail Executive Director Steven Abrams.
“That’s a classic local decision,” said Abrams.