The Free Press is reporting live from somewhere in Fort Lauderdale – the third most racially segregated City in Florida
“The Little Engine that Couldn’t”
At a Transportation Workshop held earlier this week, Broward County Commissioners expressed frustration and concern about seemingly endless delays and over $50 million in cost overruns of the Fort Lauderdale DDA sponsored WAVE Modern Streetcar Project.
The Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority’s WAVE Streetcar project is now 13 years in the making; it’s four years behind schedule and $52 million over the original $142 million cost .
The Florida Department of Transportation has offered to take over the final design and construction of the lagging project some have described as “the Lawyer’s Loop”.
Fort Lauderdale’s total cost share to date for the WAVE is about $46million. Beyond that the City will now be responsible for 25% of any construction costs that go over the updated $195 million budget.
FDOT and the County will require the City, the CRA, and the DDA to keep their checkbooks open until the end of the job.
County Commissioner Lois Wexler remarked: “The progress is terrible. It’s not going anywhere. I’m in the same place I was 11 years ago when I came in office. What should concern all of us is you’re buying a pig-in-a-poke”
County Commissioner Dale Holness expressed concerns that stakeholders in Northwest Fort Lauderdale are adamantly telling him that the WAVE Northern Loop is “ripoff” of CRA redevelopment funds from the Northwest community. Holness said that he would not support additional funding for the WAVE unless it includes expansion across the tracks and westward on Sistrunk Boulevard.
Holness said, “the community that needs this the most …it’s going to their doorsteps and turning away. It’s not going across the railroad tracks…..that infamous railroad track that’s caused so much angst over the years.”
(The intersection of the railroad tracks and Sistrunk Blvd. is the dividing line of the third most racially segregated city in Florida (also, we would point out – one of the top ten best cities for parking according to NerdWallet.com)
Holness went on to say “It seems short-sighted to me that we would have designed this system that would go all the way up to Sistrunk Blvd on the east side of Andrews Avenue and the railroad track and not cross the tracks at all….to ensure that folks on the other side have access to transportation to Downtown so they can get to work. But even beyond that, so there’s some economic development that can take place that’s so greatly needed in that area – the community that has been left behind for so long.”
At the time of the WAVE Loop’s quick and quiet approval, some members of the Northwest community expressed concern that no plans or studies had ever been done to substantiate how this investment fit into their approved redevelopment plan.
Florida law requires CRA’s to stick pretty close to their adopted plans. It’s pretty much against the law for a CRA to spend money on projects that are not described in their adopted plan. Taxpayers are supposed to be able to give public input as to what those special taxes can pay for.
Some experts have told us the rules are pretty simple, but pretty strict. According to state law, all the CRA money is supposed to be in a trust fund, and only spent on authorized projects in the adopted plan.
Generally, the legal experts say “If it’s not in the plan, you can’t do it”
Fort Lauderdale’s CRA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN “IF IT’S NOT IN THE PLAN, YOU CAN’T DO IT”
As a general rule, CRA money is supposed to be used to eradicate crime, slum, and blight and to build affordable housing for low and middle -income families. A CRA can do other stuff, but the project has to be in the plan before it can be funded.
We delved into the City’s official 2001 Redevelopment Plan. We looked everywhere, even in the couch cushions, and we could not find any mention of streetcars, trolleys, buses, or mass transit of any shape or size or location east or west of the tracks. Nothing.
We understand the City intends to amend their CRA Redevelopment plan sometime later this year in an effort to “come into compliance”.
In other words, the CRA Board may have broken the law by approving this project before having the authority to do so……
The Fort Lauderdale CRA took out a $7.5million loan to fund 100% of the cost for the WAVE Northern Loop. The Loop takes the streetcar on a short parade around some very desirable private property in the heart of trendy Flagler Village.
The CRA has taken on almost $900,000 per year towards debt service for the project. The 11 year loan gets paid off just as the agency loses its authority to exist in 2025. The CRA has about $5 million a year to spend on Redevelopment. They spent almost $3million last year on operating costs. Add in the debt service, and it looks like there’s little left for the taxpayers who live across the tracks.
The otherwise financially embarrassed Downtown Development Authority (running out of money fast) is comfortably collecting a surplus of about $500,000 more per year in property assessments. They are squeezing the downtown property owners for $500,000 per year more than needed to make the payments on their $19.5 million loan for the eventual construction of the WAVE.
County Commissioner Tim Ryan lent his perspective on expanding the WAVE streetcar into Northwest Fort Lauderdale. “In my view, it’s all based upon ridership and if the studies indicate that the greatest ridership is going to be based upon expanding it on the 17th Street Causeway and to the Airport, then that’s where we go.”
Ryan went on to say “On a project that is so immensely expensive, you can’t just build it and say it will lead to economic development. You have to already (I think) be there. You have to have consultant reports, disinterested consultant reports that say the levels of ridership”
Fort Lauderdale City Manager and CRA Director Lee Feldman seemed agreeable as he told the group that the Northern Loop is being funded by the Fort Lauderdale CRA and that the City has commissioned a study to explore the viability of moving the WAVE west on Sistrunk into Northwest Fort Lauderdale
Commissioner Holness asked if a ridership study was done on the WAVE Loop Extension.
Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman answered “No”….“We did not do a study for the ridership of the (WAVE) Northern Loop”
Commissioner Holness said, I’m confounded by this, that we couldn’t find a way to make it happen….. But a lot of that money is collected on the other side of the tracks. None of that money is going to the people on the other side of the tracks that are paying the taxes.”
A visibly agitated Holness said “That’s not fair at all. That’s totally unfair! It’s not right! It’s not just Dale Holness raising the concern – the community is raising this concern, leaders are raising this concern, even Congressman Hastings.”
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bruce Roberts told the County that State Representative and former Northwest Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bobby DuBose saw the CRA’s $7.5 million eastward expansion of the WAVE Northern Loop as a “precursor” to expansion westward on Sistrunk.
Former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner, State Representative Bobby DuBose
“It was championed by him”, Roberts stated.
In the third most racially segregated city in Florida, without a study, you can only ride the train on the white side of the tracks.