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Federal dollars for trolleys in Miami-Dade, local cities spurred civil rights investigation

By Jenny Staletovich

Miami’s snazzy new trolleys, painted to look like quaint street cars and designed to draw riders with free public transportation, hit all the hot spots: Mary Brickell Village and AmericanAirlines Arena, the Adrienne Arsht Center, Midtown and downtown Coral Gables. There’s even a route to Miami’s sprawling health district near Jackson Memorial.

But where the trolleys do not venture is the West Grove, a largely black neighborhood founded over a century ago by Bahamian laborers who helped build the city.

In response to citizen complaints, federal transit officials are taking a closer look at how Miami-Dade County and local cities are spending tens of millions of federal dollars doled out to help finance the trolleys and a slew of other transportation projects. The money, part of the massive $787 billion stimulus package pushed by President Barack Obama, was approved by Congress in 2009 to boost the country’s depressed economy.

At issue is whether the local projects fail to serve poor and minority communities, potentially violating the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The inquiry is part of an expanding probe that began last fall, when federal transit officials found that Miami, Coral Gables and Miami-Dade mishandled a plan to move a trolley maintenance garage from Coral Gables to the West Grove. The plan was approved without sufficient input from West Grove residents, as required by the civil rights law, federal officials said.

More here.