In the past 12 months, the Miami-Dade County Commission has achieved consensus on the SMART plan — six new rail corridors that are absolutely vital to our economic survival.
The Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit plan includes: an east-west connector along Kendall Drive; an east-west connector from downtown to 137th Ave.; a “Baylink” linking downtown to the Miami Beach Convention Center; a north corridor completing the existing MetroRail along Northwest 27th Avenue all the way to Hard Rock Stadium; a commuter train along the FEC tracks; and the “South Dade TransitWay” connecting Dadeland to Florida City.
Initially, the discussion was whether one of these should get priority over the others. Ultimately — after several, sometimes contentious, hearings — we have concluded that no one corridor can be left behind.
In the meantime, the issue of funding has been lurking in the background, causing residents to wonder whether we are overexaggerating the viability of a plan that some doubt will really happen in one generation.
It is important to note that three of the corridors already have components in progress (the Miami Beach segment of Baylink, the Brightline track that would be used by the northeast commuter train, and a trolley loop that connects Brickell to Southwest 37th Avenue, serving as the eastern-most component of the east-west connector). Therefore, what needs to be identified is immediate funding of the South Dade TransitWay and the North corridor.
At the first budget hearing, I proposed that the South Dade TransitWay and the North corridor be funded during the current fiscal year’s (2016-17) budget-approval process. These transit lines will serve two of the most deserving communities in the county. That funding can be put in place immediately. For both of these lines, there are no land acquisition issues; the county would build the tracks and provide the equipment; and the cities or the major businesses along each route would fund the construction of the stations.
The industry consensus is that each mile of at-grade, light rail will cost $25 million in capital improvements. These two corridors, totaling 35 miles, will thus cost around $900 million. Therefore, a stream of revenues of $70 million to $80 million a year will be needed to immediately fund both projects.
I urge Mayor Carlos Gimenez to restore no less than $40 million to the People’s Transportation Trust (PTP) in the current year’s budget. In that connection, I am echoing the sentiments of Citizens Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) Chairman Paul Schwiep who stated: “Thanks to property value increases and substantial new development, funds are available in the current year’s budget cycle to restore as much as $40 million to the Transportation Trust.”
We received written pledges from the leaders of our legislative delegation that the state would match the $40 million in recurring streams of revenue from state funds.
State Sens. Anitere Flores, Dwight Bullard and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla have assured us that such funding is viable as early as 2017. We have similar assurances on the House side from Miami-Dade Delegation Chair Jose Felix Diaz and Reps. Kionne McGhee and Carlos Trujillo.
It’s time to kickstart the SMART plan to make it even smarter.
Xavier L. Suarez, the Miami-Dade County commissioner from District 7, is a member of the Transit & Mobility Committee.