When state Rep. Kionne McGhee spoke in front of the Metropolitan Planning Organization Governing Board last month, he was so exasperated he could hardly maintain his decorum.
The South Dade representative unloaded on the board that for 30 years has studied and procured federal, state and local funds and set the priority list for local transportation projects. Mr. McGhee said little has been done to help his district deal with its traffic issues, which has left his constituents disconnected from economic growth in downtown Miami. He’s right to be peeved.
“It can take a Florida City resident as long to commute to downtown Miami as to get to Orlando. I don’t want to point fingers,” he said, in effect, pointing fingers including at the 23-member board, made up of 13 county commissioners, municipal mayors and representatives from other agencies.
The MPO has come under attack from several fronts: the Legislature, which briefly considered a bill to restructure it spearheaded by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and even a handful of board members, who said the board is too big and parochial, lacks vision, is territorial and is not nimble enough — detailed in Sunday’s editorial, MPO, heal thyself.
Those very board members have to answer to residents still stinging from the broken promises of the half-penny transportation sales tax, lack of regional planning and the inefficiency of unsynchronized traffic lights, which leave them in eternal gridlock.
To be clear, the MPO is not an operating agency. Its job is approving and finding funding for projects such as Tri-Rail, the Miami Intermodal Center, the PortMiami Tunnel and the Krome Avenue improvement project, and 200 others since 2012. And the MPO also helped create toll-happy MDX. On Sunday, the Herald unveiled its Toll Shock series, showing how much more in tolls commuters are paying.
Interim Executive Director Jesus Guerra defends the work of his staff, which recently underwent grueling federal accreditation. It’s also imperative, he said, to separate them from the board. Still, staffers think the MPO has become a scapegoat for all our traffic problems. A fair assessment, but there’s plenty wrong with the MPO, and fixes must be seriously considered:
▪ MPO board members should push to find a dynamic new executive director who will become the face of the MPO and hopefully make all the criticism disappear. This position has gone unfilled since last year.
▪ The MPO is too big, its structure unwieldy. The 13 commissioners either are cliquish or too territorial about projects in their districts. “There is not a vision for all,” said Vice Chair Francis Suarez, a Miami city commissioner. Maybe the Legislature should take a second look.
▪ Unlike MPOs in Broward and Orlando, says veteran board member Maurice Ferré, Miami-Dade’s does not function independently from the county, so it’s basically a mirror of the County Commission, covering the same ground and limiting the vision thing.
▪ MPO Chair Jean Monestime recently created two smaller committees to be headed by Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Dennis Moss. Good move. On Saturday, the two MPO members hosted a South Dade Solutions Summit and transportation concerns were on the agenda.
Finally, the more-defensive members of the MPO must remember whom they are there to serve. Then they must act accordingly.