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Trolley project in Miami using federal dollars sparks civil rights probe

The U.S. government is examining whether Miami officials violated residents’ civil rights in using federal stimulus money to build a trolley system that hits numerous hotspots in wealthy areas but bypasses minority neighborhoods.

The Federal Transit Administration’s growing probe focuses on Miami-Dade County’s handling of the $69 million it got as part of the $787 billion President Obama-backed stimulus package known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by Congress in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, the Miami Herald reports.

Already, the FTA has reportedly ordered transportation officials from Miami-Dade County, which received a 5 percent cut of the $69 million federal grant for administratively meteing out the money to 18 local cities, to review all projects financed with the money to ensure that no one violated the federal Civil Rights Acts of 1964.

“It’s really about public participation. You can’t just take federal money and not let the community in.”

- Attorney Andrew Dickman

And the Herald reports Miami-Dade officials are now meeting monthly with the FTA to review – and potentially strengthen – their policies for adhering to civil rights guidelines.

 “It’s really about public participation. You can’t just take federal money and not let the community in,” Andrew Dickman, an attorney, urban planner and chairman of the Collier County Environmental Advisory Council, told the Herald. “A foundation for cities and counties is due process. So if they don’t have due process, that’s a problem.”

The FTA’s probe is reportedly rooted in a civil rights complaint West Grove-area resident Clarice Cooper filed in April after Miami, Coral Gables, Miami-Dade and a local developer built a maintenance garage for the nascent trolley network in her predominately black neighborhood – and officials refused to extend the system there.
“There has to be some accountability. You’re talking about taking money from the taxpayers of this country,” said Cooper, whose neighborhood must pay a fare for a bus that circles between the Douglas Road and Coconut Grove Metrorail stations. “You have this trolley going into Coral Gables, so you have Coral Gables (residents) able to travel into downtown Miami and back home without having to spend a penny.”

The City of Coral Gables – southwest of downtown Miami – reportedly debuted the trolley system in 2004, and Miami officials broached the construction of a connecting line five years later.

Today, Miami claims seven trolley lines, in all, that ferry passengers from tony spots like Mary Brickell Village and AmericanAirlines Arena to the Adrienne Arsht Center, midtown and downtown Coral Gables, according to the Herald. And for its part, the city used its $3.9 million share of the county-administered federal stimulus funds to buy 19 trolleys for the routes.

Click for the story from the Miami Herald.