The first in a series of town meetings to examine local issues drew more than 200 to Pinecrest Gardens to discuss Miami- Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) plans for managed toll lanes using the South Dade Busway along US1.
The controversial issue brought a half-dozen MDX staff members to display charts and explain potential lane conversions before Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner officially opened a two-hour discussion to explain the study and field questions about the project. Moderated by former Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson, the meeting provided an opportunity for area residents to air their objections to an MDX plan that would elevate the Busway over east-west through streets. Others objected to MDX’s concentration on expanding the road rather than opting to fund a promised southern link of Metrorail using the bus route’s way right-of-way.
Sorenson traced the Busway history back to opening of its first link between Dadeland and Caribbean Boulevard in 1977 before extension to its near 20-mile distance to Florida City in 2007 under $32.6 million in federal funding
Fielding most questions about MDX’s current role was consultant Alan S. Brick- Turin, PE, of Gannett Fleming. He explained its current two-year Project Development and Environmental (PG&E) study with a Power-Point presentation.
The project, coordinated with Miami- Dade Transit, to evaluate use of managed lanes along the 19.8-mile Busway between Metrorail’s Dadeland South Station and Florida City, is intended to provide alternative uses to improve mobility, enhance mass transit and relieve congestion on the US1 corridor, he said.
The PD&E Study began with a public kickoff meeting in September 2011 and now has reached an approximate midway point of screening alternative methods for Busway improvement, Brick-Turin explained.
“We are not the decision maker,” he emphasized in answer to a pointed query about MDX not concentrating its efforts on long-range heavy or light rail projects as Mayor Lerner said originally was visualized when the federal government allotted $80 million toward transit in 2002.
“This particular study was asked by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as part of its long-term projection for transportation improvements throughout Miami- Dade County,” Brick-Turin explained.
The current traffic and engineering studies are under a schedule to provide alternative uses, including managed lanes, by April or May 2013, he added.
Appearing on a panel with Brick-Turin was University of Miami Professor Andrew Georgiadis, an expert in urban studies, who urged integration of MDX planning with a goal of inter-connecting the historic string of South Dade communities that have become population centers south of Dadeland.
Expressing concern her over “creating bridges that could destroy the neighborhood characteristics of long established village areas” was Continental Park’s Homeowner Association president Holly White, a third panelist.
Other homeowners criticized the “humps” that an elevated US1 toll road would create to allow unblocked movement of cross-traffic of major east-west arterials.
As the session drew to a close, a prepared question asked, “What is the point of holding public meetings if you do not follow the public’s will?”
Answered Brick-Turin: “Public opinion is vital to whatever we do; that’s why we have a Community Advisory Committee appointed to monitor our reports at designated intervals during the study timeline.”
MDX representatives referred audience members to the www.mdxway.com website which provides details of the US1 Busway study and all other MDX projects.
Mayor Lerner said the communities of Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay cooperated to bring about the meeting, one of several she said will be planned to explore issues common to those municipalities, as well as neighboring areas in Kendall and southwest Miami-Dade County.