Bridge or tunnel for commuter rail? Broward leaders say bridge despite Fort Lauderdale mayor’s fierce opposition

Critics may question whether South Floridians will ever embrace a daily commute by train, but local officials are betting on it.

With hordes of people moving to Florida every day, government officials say it’s imperative they move forward with plans for a regional mass transit system that will get people out of their cars and transport them from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade County and all points in between.

But one pivotal question still remains: Will Brightline’s high-speed trains go over Fort Lauderdale’s New River or under it?

We might finally have an answer, based on a joint meeting held Tuesday between elected leaders who represent both Broward County and Fort Lauderdale.

All nine Broward commissioners and three Fort Lauderdale commissioners made it clear they prefer a bridge, saying it will be much cheaper than a tunnel. A 40-foot-high bridge would cost taxpayers around $500 million, experts say. A tunnel would cost six times that, an astronomical $3 billion, according to the Whitehouse Group consultants tapped by the city and county to review the options.

“There’s a lot of people who do prefer a tunnel — if it’s fiscally responsible,” Broward Commissioner Steve Geller told the South Florida Sun Sentinel after the meeting. “But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of cost. The tunnel might be the better option, but it doesn’t matter if we can’t afford to build it.”

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis has long championed a tunnel, saying it’s the best option not only for downtown, but for people commuting on the roads and on the waterways too.

A bridge will do nothing to resolve gridlock on the road caused by 80 trains a day crossing at Davie and Sunrise Boulevards or backups on the water when boats have to wait on a drawbridge, he noted.

Trantalis argued that a bridge will ruin Fort Lauderdale’s thriving downtown, where developers have invested billions of dollars over the past couple decades.

The mayor also talked about life span, saying a bridge only lasts 50 years while a tunnel can last more than 100.

Only one Fort Lauderdale commissioner sided with Trantalis at Tuesday’s meeting: Steve Glassman, whose district stretches from downtown to the beach.

“We have to get this right, because this is going to impact us for many, many years to come,” Glassman said.

The remaining three city commissioners — Warren Sturman, Pamela Beasley-Pittman and John Herbst — say the bridge is the way to go because it will save millions.

Herbst acknowledged a tunnel would be the best option, if not for the staggering cost.

“I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Fort Lauderdale killed commuter rail,’” Herbst said, referring to key transportation projects that have stalled for decades due to opposition.

“We have 1,000 people a day moving to Florida,” Herbst added. “The ability to move people around and get them off I-95 is going to be critical over the next 50 years. I look at this as what is practicable. What can get done?”

Under current plans, the federal government would cover 50% of the project’s cost and the county and state would pay 25% each.

It will take eight years to build a bridge and 10.5 years to build a tunnel, according to the consultant.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the time is now,” Broward Commissioner Lamar Fisher said. “The time has come. We can no longer afford to wait. We have to make a decision. We have to move this forward. So let’s be realistic, and let’s make the right decision for the entire region. It’s got to happen, folks.”

Trantalis says he’s still not giving up on the tunnel.

“It’s not over till it’s over,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “We’ll see what happens.”

Susannah Bryan can be reached at Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan

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