MPO’s rail expansion plans get mixed local reaction

A survey of Kendall community leaders and residents indicates support, along with concerns over financing the newly proposed “SMART” plan to solve countywide traffic issues with six future rail projects.

The “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit” (SMART) plan adopted by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) on Apr. 21 would build mass transit lines to include Kendall Drive from Metrorail’s Dadeland South Station west to SW 162nd Avenue, and along the South Dade Busway.

Four other corridors include rail paralleling SR 836/Dolphin Expressway, NW 27th Avenue, Biscayne Boulevard and a Baylink line between Miami and Miami Beach.

Without a development schedule or detailed financing, the MPO heralded the program as reviving the People’s Transportation Plan approved by voters in 2002 to use a one-half penny surtax for rapid transit, a directive commissioners largely used to retire transportation indebtedness, still a controversil issue among voters.

“The proposed MPO plan is a great vision for improving transportation throughout the Miami-Dade County community,” said Miles Moss, traffic engineer and member of the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust. “Innovative Financing Studies have shown that these types of improvements can be accomplished and have been done in other cities in the U.S.

“Since each of these corridors have previously had detailed Major Investment Studies (MIS) with substantial citizen input, I recommend that each Corridor Study be updated and a public hearings be held to provide input…for that community,” said the Winston Park HOA president.

“Sensitivity should be provided to encourage the use of mass transportation but the recommended plan should not substantially impact the citizens in the community who will not use transit,” he added, explaining there should be “no through lane reductions or numerous left turn restrictions implemented” as a consequence of any route revision.

Jeff Wander, who served during 2003-06 on the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC), recalled that during his service “most members of the committee voted to support light rail…one voted to expand the busway. The county was not able to justify the enormous expense of rail alongside US1.

“The cost effectiveness supported bus transit due to cost of rail and realistic ridership. Now, discussions of light rail along Kendall Drive to SW 162nd Avenue, where the bus terminal is located, sounds like a great idea,” said Wander, a Lakes of the Meadow resident. “Something must be done to aid the traffic flow from the Dadeland hub to the West Kendall bus terminal,” he added.

“The plans are incredibly ambitious,” said Michael Rosenberg, president of Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations. “Then I saw the price tag, $12 billion, and thought about the timeframe to get this project done — decades.

“Then I read about the infighting that will take place as each commissioner fights to make sure their district is first. That could take centuries. My suggestion: put the six corridors on the November ballot and let the community vote for who goes first.” More comments:

“The greatest need is for the airport to Miami Beach route,” said Henry ‘Hank” Hamilton, a CPA in the Dadeland area. “Construction may commence quickest on the Dadeland to Florida City route; almost all the right of way is already owned by the county.

“‘Not in my back yard’ is not an argument that should be used to block the building of any of these routes,” he added.

“I don’t think a solution to the problem is more buses or express bus lanes,” said Kendall resident Diane Hernandez. “They need to stop building and seriously think about extending the train system.”

Diane Lawrence of Kendale lamented, “I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime. No one wants to raise taxes and that is what it will take.

“Kendale’s location is pretty good for getting around, speaking for myself, not the community,” she said.

“Growing up in New York, the use of public transportation was as natural as breathing,” said Frank Irrizary, a banking executive. “That’s not the case here due to ineffective planning. I hope our elected officials now follow through on these proposals in a fair and non-provincial way, but I suspect that will be the hardest hurdle to overcome.”

School Board candidate Aster Mohammad recalled, “The improvement on Kendall Drive has been discussed for at least the past 25 years but never came to fruition because there was no time line indicated in the proposal. Meanwhile, the population in West Kendall is growing astronomically.”

Ory Dawes, who cfhairs a Municipal Advisory Committee in West Kendall, said, “Unfortunately I think this is being brought up at a time when the mayor is starting to secure votes for re-election. “The public voted for a half penny tax to extend the Metrorail 20 years ago or so, and where has that money gone? If you look at just the area of Kendall for example, what will drivers do between 88th Street and SW 344th Street?

“The majority of drivers that have to commute to downtown, Coral Gables and parts north are coming from the south and west and will receive no benefit from the proposed corridors. How is this going to be paid for? Another sales tax increase? Will we be here again in 10 or 20 years, with no advancement in public transportation?” It’s going to cost the taxpayers, one way or another, so let’s cut through the red tape and BS and get it done.”

Among the County Commissioners representing five Kendall areas, neither District 11 Commissioner Juan Zapata nor District 10 Commissioner Javier Souto responded to a request for comment.

District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez has vigorously supported expansion of rail, strongly advocating light rail for the Busway while District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava has gone on record as “committed to delivery short and long-term transit solutions.” District 9 Commnissioner Dennis Moss has termed passage a “watershed moment” answering commuter and daily motorist gridlocks.

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