Last month’s Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) meeting was, at best, disappointing. The TPO, made-up of Miami-Dade County Commissioners plus local elected officials, convened on July 19 to review and vote on a locally preferred mode of transit for the South Dade Corridor.
However, after more than four hours of testimony and debating rail vs. buses, the TPO deferred the issue to August 30. Although it was quite clear from the public testimony that Metrorail is still what people expect and want, the pressure to get “something” done seems to have many conceding to the allure of cheap, but less effective Bus Rapid Transit. It appeared from the debate that the voters would be let down again, so I agreed to the delay to allow more time to make the case for rail. Rail was promised, and rail should be what we work to deliver.
As frustrated as I have been about all the diversions during this study period – like unproven Chinese trackless trains and autonomous vehicles – the Department of Transportation & Public Works recommendation of Metrorail at ground level has the real potential to uphold the promise to actually extend Metrorail. According to our consultants, Metrorail operating like a light rail system would offer the best travel-time performance, the best ridership projections, and the best option for getting cars off the street and offers a single-seat ride for users.
That’s critical in drawing new users to the system because it would mean getting on anywhere on the Metrorail line to go downtown, to the Airport, to the Health District, or Hialeah, without having to transfer at all. And the reverse is true. Residents downtown or points north would have easy transit access to jobs in Homestead or Cutler Bay, or at any of the eight mixed-use town centers already established along the Transitway.
The County Commission has worked quite hard to uncover alternative funding opportunities – from specialized Transit Increment Financing Districts, to stop diverting the half-penny funds to routine operational support for Transit, to reprogramming Community Redevelopment Districts to invest in new Transit expansion. And that’s before calculating State and Federal contributions to any transit expansion.
The half-penny transportation surtax was sold to us as a Metrorail expansion when it was approved by the voters in 2002. The study we’ve embarked on over the last year confirms that Metrorail at grade – while not the ideal elevated solution – is still a strong option. The choice before the Miami-Dade TPO this August 30th is to either cut the process short by selecting Bus Rapid Transit so we can gamble on a Federal Grant this year (a grant that is available every year) or continue the study through the environmental phase and keep the promise of Metrorail alive – not just for South Dade, but for the rest of the County as well.
We need to plan for the future we want for our South Dade community, not the one we are told we should settle for. I will continue to fight for bringing Metrorail south.