Let’s Get Miami-Dade Back on Track

Alex Penelas
Alex Penelas

While the current debate pits rail versus an enhanced bus system for residents of South Dade, there is actually much more at stake for the future of transportation in Miami Dade County. In fact, by approving rail as the preferred mode of transportation for South Dade later this month, the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) has a timely opportunity to put all of Miami Dade County back on track.

As the main sponsor and author of the 2002 People’s Transportation Plan (PTP), let there be no doubt that rail was indeed promised to the people of South Dade. It was part of a vision to build the foundation of a county-wide transportation network that would begin to address many of the immediate mobility needs of Miami-Dade with the ability to expand and grow to meet future needs as well. That vision included not only additional rail, but expanded bus service, street and highway improvements and municipal enhancements, such as the local trolleys that have been a success throughout Miami-Dade County.

Voters overwhelmingly approved this vision along with a half penny increase in the sales tax to serve as the long sought-after local dedicated funding source for transportation. Despite what some are alleging now, the half penny was never projected to cover the entire cost of the PTP but rather to serve as a dedicated source of revenue to attract “matching” federal and state transportation dollars. While the timeline for full implementation of the PTP and rail corridors was envisioned to take decades and would depend on the level and timing of federal and state commitments as well as other revenue sources, it was also clear that surtax proceeds were only to be used for new projects as outlined in the PTP and were to be overseen by an independent panel.

Sixteen years ago while I had the privilege of serving as Mayor, we anticipated the traffic woes of today and knew that we urgently needed to get started with a bold plan to address the growing mobility needs of an emerging international metropolis.

Fast forward to 2018 and unfortunately we have not witnessed the level of improvement we had hoped for. Because of the great recession and the County budget pressures that followed, a significant portion of the half penny proceeds were diverted to support existing services rather than the new projects set forth in the Plan; that practice was formalized by ordinance in 2009 and sadly continues today. To make matters worse, the Independent Trust was watered down. As a result, the people of South Dade are now being asked to settle for less. They should not settle; not for their sake nor for the sake of all the residents of Miami-Dade County who are asphyxiating in ever increasing traffic congestion.

While we will never recoup a decade and a half of lost time, the TPO can begin to get us back on track by approving rail for South Dade. But more is needed:

First, during its upcoming September budget hearings, the County must immediately cease allocating surtax revenues to balance its budget. One hundred percent of the half penny must be invested as mandated by the PTP for new and enhanced services, including rail.

Second, amendments that weakened the Independent Transportation Trust must be reversed; the Trust needs to be truly independent in order to properly perform its intended oversight role.

Finally, the County must begin to reimburse the Transportation Trust for all of the dollars diverted to non PTP programs; this can serve as a revenue stream for the South Dade rail project as well as other PTP mandated enhancements.

It is gratifying to see the growing network of trolleys and other municipal improvements, as well new financing initiatives and technological improvements that have evolved over the years. However, Miami Dade County does not need a new transportation plan; what it needs is for today’s leaders to fulfill the bold vision that voters overwhelmingly embraced and mandated sixteen years ago.

By approving rail to South Dade, the TPO can take the first step toward putting Miami-Dade back on track.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. In conjunction with this article, read MIAMI TODAY’S 8/21/2018 article titled “12.6% Metrobus Ridership Plunge In 12 Months Accelerates Losses” by Jesse Scheckner to ascertain how our elected officials and salaried administrators have failed us and continue to fail us. And now without the completion of the arterial grid (which has been recommended since 1978) but as recently as 1/25/2018, nixed by the T.P.O. at District 8’s Commissioner Cava’s insistence, we are sentenced to a generation or more of the same vacuous promises, and no REAL timely solutions to ease the current challenges.

  2. The 1 penny tax we placed on ourselves to hopefully improve and extend the rail system has been used to balloon the salaries of county pencil pushers. Indtead, the emphasis now is to make every street a toll road. Our potholes outnumber the population and the vast majority of traffic lights remain unsynchronized. Instead, there is this notion at the Stephen P. Clarke building that Miami Dade is the Latin New York City. NOW that’s progress in our politicians’ starry eyes.

  3. “Rail to South Dade” is the solution to the transportation problem in this County. More buses in the streets are not the solution. Instead it will increase the traffic nightmare and the buses will not last for ever. The system will need to buy new ones every five (5) to ten (10) years which I think, will not be long term cost effective .

  4. Nonsense! Take away the one-half penny income from the budget and homeowners will see their real estate taxes increase. The Penelas plan while Mayor was not viable then and still is not viable to have rail transit in South Dade. In fact, the County’s plan was to extend the rail up 27th Avenue to the Broward County line. South Dade was not even in the picture.

  5. The bus solution is actually the most costeffective for tax payers since it will not be in the actual street traffic, and they will be electric saving much more than gas engines for maintenace, fuel, pollution, etc. Tax payers can expect a huge cost efficiency with the bus transit vs the rail. Its all in the details of the deployment, check it out!

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