The prevalent discussion in Miami is about congestion on our roadways. No doubt, our transportation system is a mess.
We have no effective local transportation plan in place and the dysfunction of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the MPO that oversees and plans ground transportation, is making matters worse. Not to mention the broken promises of the half-penny transportation surtax, lack of regional planning and the inefficiency of our synchronized traffic-light system.
In Miami-Dade, we also have a lack of funding to fix and improve infrastructure. Local government’s debt structure is immense. Its ability to fund more debt is increasingly limited. Nor can we expect significant monetary help from the federal government or the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
With the issue of transportation, Miami-Dade has a longstanding habit of being divided. As a member of the Florida Transportation Commission, I attend transportation summits and presentations all over the state.
What most impresses me is how united the Tampa Bay area and Central Florida (Orlando) are and how absent Southeast Florida is from these opinion-forming, and sometimes action-taking, forums.
We have nobody to blame but ourselves for not getting our fair share in infrastructure funding from the state government.
For more than 30 years, past mayors of Hialeah, Miami and the Miami-Dade MPO have, because of internal divisions and discrepancies, killed FDOT funding for:
▪ the building of the Douglas-LeJeune corridor Sunshine Parkway, connecting MIA to the Golden Glades Interchange and Florida’s Turnpike.
▪ double-decking State Road 112 to connect mid-Miami Beach and the Design District to Miami International Airport and the $2 billion MIC off LeJeune Road.
▪ the rebuilding, in 2001, of the I-395/I-95/SR836 intersection in downtown Miami. Not to mention the 30 years it took to build our bragging success story, the now popular, PortMiami Tunnel.
Here’s how it happened:
In a short-on-money, highly competitive FDOT environment, if there is any community dissent, Central Office and FDOT secretaries wait patiently for a resolution. If differences are not resolved, our money is moved to another area where the regional MPO is in agreement with a prioritized project.
Miami-Dade has long been characterized by a lack of unity, indecisive civic and political leadership and a lack of political forcefulness in pursuing state infrastructure funds. As a donor community, we have not gotten our fair share of federal or state infrastructure funds.
If Miami-Dade, as a community, is to achieve solutions for our messed-up transportation system, we must have leadership and citizen participation and use good judgment.
▪ Prioritize our transportation projects.
▪ Base decision in reality. There are no free rides, somebody must pay for any transportation solution.
▪ Beware of real building costs, operating costs and time/financing costs based on other American metropolitan areas. Heavy-rail transit systems costs 20 times more, and light rail 10 times more than express buses on highways and Full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems.
▪ Do not go against the FDOT grain. Gov. Rick Scott and his FDOT are currently spending $3.5 billion on Managed Lane systems in Central Florida (Orlando I-4), Tampa Bay Area, Jacksonville, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The finished managed-lane systems (by 2020) will cost well over $6 billion. Managed lanes are successful decongesters of highways through a system of partial congestion pricing (like I-95 in Miami and I-595 in Broward). As important, ML systems secure dedicated lanes for 55-mph express buses, with limited stops at hubs, on our toll roads.
▪ Transportation in America is headed to a user pay system. In other words, like electricity and water utilities, you pay for what you use. Miami-Dade’s exaggerated penchant for free transportation is more fuzzy thinking headed for another crisis.
▪ Southeast Florida must look at its transportation and infrastructure issues regionally. Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area are way ahead acting regionally in their respective MPOs.
▪ Miami-Dade’s MPO must be reorganized to be more dynamic.
Fortunately, under the leadership of the County Commission’s new Transit and Mobility Services Committee chair, Esteban Bovo Jr., and MPO Chair Jean Monestime and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, we might have a chance of reversing our past poor judgment and come up with, for once, a unified, well-thought-out, transit project that makes sense for a more-united community to support.
Maurice A. Ferré serves on the Florida Transportation Commission, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade County MPO.