Suarez: Light rail only answer to traffic jams

Suarez: Light rail only answer to traffic jams in county

Commissioner Suarez urges light rail at Greater Kendall Business Association luncheon.
(Photo by All Star Event Photography)

Light rail service, instead of managed bus lanes to relieve Miami-Dade’s clogged roadways, got a renewed boost from Commissioner Xavier Suarez speaking to more than 150 Kendall business professionals at a Greater Kendall Business Association luncheon on Feb. 25.

Describing his proposal to fund four major light rail links from existing Metrorail stations, Suarez termed conversion of the South Dade Busway for express bus travel “crazy.”

“Building bridges needed to raise the Busway and create ‘humps’ over several roads for express busing is a total waste of money,” he declared.

Instead, Suarez has proposed using the Busway as the base for an overhead light rail link from the South Dade Metrorail station to a terminal in Florida City.

Currently, Miami-Dade’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) plans to elevate the Busway with bridges spanning major east-west cross streets.

To ease SW 88th Street (Kendall Drive) traffic jams, Suarez would build a light rail extension over an existing CSX rail line, west of Miami International Airport to SW 137th Avenue, primarily for commuters.

Two other light rail routes among the four include a Baylink between downtown Miami and Miami Beach and a northern extension from the Metrorail station at NW 67th Avemue to the Broward County line, originally planned as a Metrorail project.

“Instead of expanding expressways, we should be following the voters’ direction in 2002 when they approved expanding our county rail system, creating the half-penny transit sales tax increase for funding,” Suarez noted. “Instead, about $100 million of that half-penny annually funds basic operations and maintenance of county transit.”

Suarez has proposed using 25 percent of collected expressway tolls and all auto tag renewal fees to begin a funding source of the four light rail systems, all linked to Metrorail at a total cost of $1.7 billion. That figure is divided between the Busway extension ($690 million), West Kendall CSX line ($300 million), Baylink ($530 million), and Sun Life Stadium NW extension ($225 million).

Redirecting revenues of the transit tax to its original purpose of expansion and adding toll and tag funds could create combined revenues leading to a bonding capacity of $1.2 billion “without increasing taxes a cent,” Suarez calculated.

“It doesn’t make’ sense to spend a billion and one-half dollars interconnecting the Palmetto and SR 836, a five-year monstrosity that’s a total waste of taxpayer transportation dollars when we could have been building rail service,” he stated.

“We need a system that combines Metrorail and light rail. Buses are only part of an overall transportation plan to solve county traffic issues.”

Suarez’s proposal has drawn the backing of State Sen. Anitere Flores, Kendall representative in the Florida Legislature, who has written Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss as MPO chair to support light rail as a “fundamental step towards a viable mass transportation solution for residents of Miami-Dade County.”

Flores has filed a bill in the current legislative session providing a funding mechanism for MPO projects with a DOT allocation of $30 million annually for development of Miami-Dade passenger rail.

Officials in several South Miami-Dade communities have supported light rail, adding their names to a resolution originated Feb. 1 by the Palmetto Bay Village Council that urges development of a plan for future transit options with strong emphasis on light rail.
Suarez also:

• Warned of new studies that show increased slowdown of the Gulf Stream current 30 miles off the Miami-Dade coast, causing a buildup of seabeds to add the potential of a one to two-foot rise in sea levels over already-predicted increases;

• Backed efforts to complete renovation and have Coconut Grove Playhouse declared a National Historic site to save the shuttered theater;

• Praised efforts of the Beacon Council to help promote public
and private partnerships that “can work well together” to help clear depressed areas throughout the county, and

• Put expansion of tourist facilities and an entertainment center adjacent to Zoo Miami on his list of rejections, adding “not a single proposal for that area has ever seen the light of day.”

The commissioner concluded: “Our major concern in Miami-Dade today is getting people from Point A to Point B and helping those who commute daily and are unable to afford both tolls and parking fees.”

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