The readers’ forum

Improve mass transit to ease commute by car

 

In the last 10 years, Miami’s traffic congestion has gone from bad, past worse, to intolerable. Dixie Highway leaving downtown Miami in the afternoons is a parking lot. The Dolphin Expressway heading west at rush hour is a nightmare, even when there are no accidents or construction. But accidents are frequent, and construction, thanks to the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), is ever present.

MDX, created 16 years ago to manage five existing highways in the metropolitan area, seems dedicated to spending transportation dollars to correct badly designed intersections. An enormously expensive project that illustrates the disconnect between MDX and the county’s mass-transit system is under construction on the west side of the county, and seeks to improve traffic flow where SR 836 meets the Palmetto Expressway at a cost of $560 million. How traffic flow can be improved on main thoroughfares by improving the ramps connecting them is beyond comprehension.

Now consider how that money could’ve been spent to improve public transportation in Miami-Dade. Our annual revenue from bus and Metrorail fares is around $100 million. The $560 million spent on one intersection could have instead been applied to eliminate all transit fares in the county for five and a half years! That fare holiday would’ve provided the best possible way to test price-elasticity of demand. It would imitate what we do now with the Metromover system, which is free and by all accounts the best functioning part of the county’s system of public transportation, as it carries roughly 35,000 passengers per workday.

But that’s water under the bridge. What is not is the proposed expenditure of $320 million to improve the junction of SR 836 as it flows east into I-95. I’m keenly aware of the confusion and congestion that occur when vehicles emerging from the cash-only, right-lane toll booths meet vehicles merging into the right lane from the 12th Avenue entrance, just a few hundred yards from where all such right-lane motorists, who would like to head north on I-95, must enter a narrow ramp on the extreme left. So I asked: Wouldn’t it make more sense to replace the cash-only toll lanes with plate-reading equipment and either close the entrance from 12th avenue or restrict it for southbound and eastbound vehicles, saving almost a quarter-billion dollars in the process?

Imagine if we could use that quarter-billion dollars to reduce all public transportation fares to $1 from $2 for five years, thereby testing the consumer demand for lower fares while easing the pain for working-class commuters who cannot afford the use of a car. The bureaucrats’ easy answer is that the MDX wasn’t set up for the purpose of improving mass transit, but to manage the highway system.

But if you improve mass transit for commuters, doesn’t that ease traffic for automobile commuters?

Xavier L. Suarez, Miami-Dade County commissioner, District 7, Miami

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