Homestead - South Dade

A myriad mayors gather in Homestead to talk South Dade transportation

From left to right: South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Cutler Bay Mayor Peggy Bell, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn.
From left to right: South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Cutler Bay Mayor Peggy Bell, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn. Miami Herald Staff

More than a half-dozen mayors and commissioners from across Miami-Dade County gathered at Homestead City Hall Wednesday night to talk about public transportation and “unkept promises” in South Dade.

“The county has breached its promise and the public’s trust,” said Kionne McGhee, state representative for Florida’s 117th District in Cutler Bay.

McGhee said Metrorail extensions were promised in 2002 when county voters passed a half-cent sales tax to help grow the transportation infrastructure in South Dade. Years later, the county increased bus service in the area instead of rail.

“Here we are in 2015 with no Metrorail,” McGhee said.

Joining McGhee were Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, Pinecrest Councilman James McDonald, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn, Cutler Bay Mayor Peggy Bell, South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace, along with U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami.

The city officials asked Homestead council members to join the effort to “fight for South Dade rails.”

“We were promised a Metrorail and then we were given the bus,” said Bell, adding that bus rides often increase commute times for riders, affecting quality of life. “The bus is not working for us.”

McGhee said his goal is to revive the the once-promised rails.

About four months ago, he began to contact city councils and commissions to discuss the problem. McGhee said it would take approximately $690 million to build a South Dade rail extension — which would rise next to the existing Busway, from Florida City to Dadeland.

McGhee said funding shouldn’t be a problem: “The County has the funding. We’re still paying those taxes. Since 2002 taxpayers have paid $2.5 billion. Let’s use it to keep the promise.”

Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace agreed.

“It’s an absolute must,” Wallace said. “We’re committed to producing good-paying jobs in our own backyard, but in the meantime, our people need to get where the jobs are. There’s a saying that goes: ‘The squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ Well. it’s time to yell.”

Homestead, Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay and Florida City all recently passed resolutions calling on the county to fund rail expansion. Now, the mayors will have conversations with their respective communities. Homestead’s meeting on Wednesday was the first.

McGhee said that at some point Miami-Dade County will have to address the rail issue, too.

“The plea of the south is real. We are the fastest-growing segment of Miami-Dade County and yet the cries of our people are not being heard,” McGhee said, adding that the population of South Dade is forecast to grow 40% by 2040.

Flinn of Palmetto Bay said the solution is not difficult.

“We either push together to get a real, 21st century infrastructure to move us along, or we’ll all just suffer together on U.S. 1,” Flinn said.

Weeks ago, McGhee presented his rail-extension proposal to the Metropolitan Planning Organization. He told group members that not having a better rail system keeps many residents from enjoying some county amenities.

A rail extension would allow South Dade residents to enjoy far-away museums and cultural institutions, helping low-income residents to move up the ladder, McGhee said.

“Our children are being left out — Vizcaya, the Port of Miami, the Miami Seaquarium, the AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami Beach, the Science Museum, Key Biscayne. All of those arts and sciences are not available to our children. We are being unequally treated,” adding that that it takes Cutler Bay Councilwoman Sue Ellen Loyzelle two hours to get to her workplace in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

“It’s ridiculous,” McGhee said.

He said that in South Dade, the average resident who works 250 days a year spends $3,200 annually on transportation, yet the median income in Florida City is only $24,674 a year.

Meanwhile, he added, County Hall is still trying to figure out which section of the county should receive its fair share of a rail link.

The MPO told McGhee that the county used to receive lots of funding from the federal government, but not anymore.

McGhee’s rebuttal: “The $2.5 billion are there.”

Stoddard of South Miami is excited about the expansion proposal for more personal reasons.

“For better or worse, my daughter has a boyfriend who lives in Cutler Bay, and I wish I can just take him to the Metrorail station and not drive him home,’ he said. “The rail would be a tremendous asset to Southeast Dade. I would be forever thankful if you’re able to make this possible.”