[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ome 32 years ago our county government, recognizing the population explosion in our community, broke ground on a heavy rail elevated mass transit system — 24.4 miles in length. It was to be the nucleus of a mass transit system taking cars off the road and reducing the need for constant highway expansion.
Several things happened, or didn’t happen, as a result of the new transit system:
1. Except for the addition of the 2.4-mile airport link, the system has not expanded from the original 24.4 miles.
2. Proposals to extend the system south to Florida City, west to Krome Avenue, north to the Broward County line or east to Miami Beach never materialized.
3.We, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade, overwhelmingly approved a half-cent sales tax to cover the cost of “expanding” our transit service — both bus and rail systems. What actually happened was the money was used to maintain our current aging bus fleet — nothing else.
North Dade was promised, on a number of occasions, an expansion north along NW 27th Avenue. The area north of Flagler Street is in desperate need of an extended Metrorail not only to serve the residents of Northwest Miami-Dade, but to relieve the pressure from the thousands of Broward County residents who work in Miami and clog up the streets of North Dade.
South Dade residents are yelling: “We overwhelmingly approved the half-cent sales tax to fund, in part, the Metrorail extension to Florida
City. All we got was an exclusive bus roadway.”
Now we are looking west. Why can we build an extension west to Krome avenue, but we can’t extend Metrorail south, north or east?
The cost of extension of an elevated system is prohibitive. We just don’t have the money. Transit fares and possible state and federal subsidies can’t cover the cost of building and maintaining an elevated system.
Building south has a chance of materializing by using the current busway right away. County commissioner Xavier Suarez points out that there are sufficient funds available from county transit sales tax dollars and projected transit use to fund and maintain a South Dade System.
Building north to the Broward line is almost impossible. The cost of acquiring land by the use of eminent domain is beyond the reach of the county.
County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of the county’s Transportation Committee, thinks he has the answer to the much-needed West Dade expansion. He has been in preliminary discussions with the CSX Railroad, which has a freight line that runs alongside the Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) west. Bovo proposes sharing the rails with CSX’s infrequently run freight trains. He proposes running the commuter line 11 miles west from the Miami Intermodal Center adjacent to Miami International Airport to NW 137th Avenue.
This would eliminate the prohibitive cost of right-of-way acquisition and cost of building an overhead system. The cost, if we had to buy the right of way and build, would be $2.3 billion. The initial cost taking over the rail line from CSX is $102 million. The cost of using the CSX line, primarily maintenance costs, is projected at $8 million a year.
With projected rates of $2 per trip, it would take on the average, 10,959 paying passengers a day to cover the cost ($8 million divided by $2 divided by 365 days = 10,959 paying passengers a day). Daily ridership on the current system is 78,100 (February 2014).
Bovo suggests that CSX would run the freight trains at night after normal commuter service ends for the day. CSX executives said they are eager to find another entity to take over the maintenance costs for their underused cargo route that is connected to the rock quarries in West Dade.
It just might work. Several questions: First, will 10,959 paying passengers use the line each day? Second, how good a number is the $8 million a year in operational costs? A college professor once told me that when proposing a new business double the proposed expenses and cut the proposed revenue in half. Still works? Do it!
We appreciate your opinions on this column whether in agreement or disagreement. Send your comments to (fax number) 305-662-6980 or email to Kenneth.Bluh@ColumbusCL.com. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of this newspaper, its editors or publisher.