Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Making mayor head of MDX is a bad idea

A view of the new toll system of Snapper Creek Expressway Kendall in this file photo.
A view of the new toll system of Snapper Creek Expressway Kendall in this file photo. FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER

My presence would bring the MDX more into the sunshine. — Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to a Miami Herald reporter.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Of all the things Gimenez has brought to county governance, transparency isn’t one of them, vetting projects publicly isn’t one of them, and listening to ordinary people before making high-impact decisions that affect them isn’t one of them.

Who would put another transportation agency with the potential to have crushing economic impact on people’s lives into the hands of an already too-powerful mayor friendly to big business interests and developers responsible for our gridlock?

The Florida Legislature might if a proposal that would make Gimenez chairman of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board of directors — sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, the Republican chair of the Miami-Dade delegation — is approved.

Surely, the MDX — responsible for the excessive tolls people are paying to use the county’s main east-west arteries — needs oversight and accountability. But more than anything else, the agency needs to listen, really listen to the public and understand who they ultimately serve.

It doesn’t take layers of governance to come to the conclusion that the current toll rates on the 836 and 112 expressways are out of sync with wages. You don’t need a transportation summit to give voice to the teacher who lives in Kendall and works in midtown, makes $37,000 a year and pays $300 a month in tolls. A teacher who then tried to make it home without paying tolls only to discover it would be a 2½-hour commute.

Would the mayor do any better by this teacher?

Judging by Gimenez’s record of fast-tracking deals without public input and cutting needed services like public libraries, his appointment is not very likely to affect what ails MDX.

“MDX needs tweaking, but putting it in the hands of the mayor is not a good idea,” former Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson told me. She’s now the president and CEO of The Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami.

“He cooks it all up and then goes to the commission and says, you’ve got 10 minutes to decide to take it or leave it,” Sorenson says, citing the secrecy under which Gimenez brokered — with the Beacon Council, the Graham Companies, the School Board and a Canadian developer — the megamall/theme-park deal that may not only adversely affect Northwest Miami-Dade communities, but also tax strained water resources and create more gridlock.

What Miami-Dade needs, Sorenson says, is a comprehensive transportation plan, a regional approach, and agencies that work not independently but “with each other” to address transportation and traffic problems. Traffic is “the No.1 problem in this community right now,” she says, and people are not addressing what would happen, for example, if there were a need for a massive evacuation because of a hurricane or a Turkey Point nuclear power plant accident.

“If the mayor had the transportation system [to run] there might not be a whole lot of discussion,” she says.

And what MDX desperately needs to do is to listen — not act like it’s listening at a token public hearing — to the people for whom they build and manage roads. MDX bond holders need to be paid, but any pay plan that doesn’t take working-class wages into account and makes tolls unaffordable is a bad deal.

Putting Gimenez at the helm of MDX is hardly a solution to the listening issue.

The mayor of Miami-Dade already has too much power — and that hasn’t been a good thing. Our government does, indeed, need more sunshine, not a handover of yet more power to one man and one political position.

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