During a major press conference at Miami-Dade County Hall today, I witnessed as Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez unveiled details of an innovative plan that will affect public transportation in our region for years to come. I have to say, I thoroughly agreed with almost everything he laid out. He discussed some big ideas that will have major impacts on mobility in our community.
Not surprisingly, though, I’ve often found myself in alignment with many of this mayor’s initiatives. He has consistently remained focused on the economic potential, fiscal sustainability, and opportunities for development in our community.
Today’s announcement furthers his vision of making our community more affordable and more accessible – by encouraging us to think more broadly, and by taking control of our transportation options in order to make some real changes on public transportation here locally.
Mayor Gimenez noted that, while he agrees with the premise of two State bills currently pending in the legislature (HB 385 and CS/SB 898), proposed by sponsors Representative Bryan Avila and Senator Manny Diaz, more needs to be done to improve mobility in our community – and he wants to take a different course.
Rather than give up our local revenues to the state, the mayor is suggesting we should take local control of transportation revenues generated here by local residents and visitors. Through the creation of the Transportation Authority of Miami-Dade (TAMD), consolidating the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) and Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike (HEFT), he says we can leverage toll revenue to improve transportation options throughout the county while saving residents and visitors a significant amount of money. Initial projections indicate that by combining these systems and refunding outstanding debt, tolls will be lowered for the HEFT and MDX by 20 percent immediately.
He also is proposing that, moving forward, tolls will not be subject to Consumer Price Index increases, as the state currently requires, and managed lanes (essentially a toll within a toll) will not be implemented as currently planned by the State. These actions save toll payers in Miami-Dade County $8.5 billion. In addition, a new $1.85 billion will be available for public transportation needs in our community, including the People’s Transportation Plan. Money collected in Miami-Dade County will stay in our community and benefit the people of Miami-Dade County.
This just makes sense, the mayor said. And I agree.
So, let’s take a closer look. At the core of the mayor’s proposal are real toll-rate reductions that can be achieved in the following ways:
- Merge MDX and the Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike (HEFT), and change its governance and financial structures. The governance should be comprised of the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, the mayors of the four-largest cities that abut the system (Doral, Hialeah, Miami Gardens and Miami), and four other local elected officials appointed by the governor to ensure accountability to our residents.
- The TAMD will take control of the HEFT by paying off the county’s proportional share (11.7 percent, based on lane miles) of the Turnpike’s outstanding debt of approximately $2.6 billion through a 33-year bond issuance.
- The Turnpike will keep the county’s proportional share of its unrestricted cash of $844 million, which, based on the 16.7 percent of Turnpike revenues generated by the HEFT, amounts to $141 million.
- The TAMD will not increase MDX toll rates by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the next 33 years. Revenues of the system will grow naturally as the population increases at an estimated 2 percent per year on average.
- While the Turnpike currently has automatic, annual CPI increases, the TAMD will also keep tolls flat for CPI on the HEFT over the next 33 years. At a conservatively assumed CPI increase of 2.2 percent per year and assuming that traffic isn’t diverted off the HEFT, HEFT toll payers will be saving about $4.46 billion over the next 33 years. As a further cost-avoidance measure, the TAMD will not have managed lanes (also known as “Lexus Lanes”) within the Turnpike, which are, in essence, a toll-within-a-toll.
- The TAMD will also further decrease toll rates on both the MDX and HEFT systems by 20 percent, thereby saving our commuters an additional $4 billion over the next 33 years. And, as with the existing MDX system, truckers using the HEFT will be charged for a maximum of only 3 axles, which we estimate will average a 50 percent overall savings.
This proposal will result in a total of $9 billion in savings to toll payers. It will allow for operations and upkeep of both systems, and will allow both systems to complete their current Capital Improvement Program, including needed safety projects. The Kendall Parkway will get built, including express bus service that will bring much needed relief to nearly 600,000 commuters in South Dade.
Next step: Governor DeSantis and our local delegation need to make this happen.
I believe the plan proposed by Mayor Gimenez will result in a community that is more affordable, more accessible, more resilient — a community that we can all be proud to call home. I also believe this is a plan that all us who care about the future of transportation should support.