The Florida Influencer Series

Florida Influencers: Mass transit funding key to solving state’s infrastructure woes

MIAMI, FL - MAY 11:  The Brightline train is seen at the new MiamiCentral terminal during the inaugural trip from Miami to West Palm Beach on May 11, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Brightline welcomed the media, politicians and other dignitaries to ride on the inaugural trip for the privately funded passenger train which is running from Miami to West Palm Beach with one stop in Fort Lauderdale. The $3.1 billion project, will eventually extend its rail system to Orlando International Airport and is scheduled to be completed by January 2021.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - MAY 11: The Brightline train is seen at the new MiamiCentral terminal during the inaugural trip from Miami to West Palm Beach on May 11, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Brightline welcomed the media, politicians and other dignitaries to ride on the inaugural trip for the privately funded passenger train which is running from Miami to West Palm Beach with one stop in Fort Lauderdale. The $3.1 billion project, will eventually extend its rail system to Orlando International Airport and is scheduled to be completed by January 2021. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More from the series


The Florida Influencers Series

This election year, the Miami Herald, the Bradenton Herald and El Nuevo Herald are driving a conversation on the important issues facing our state. We’ve assembled a panel of 50 influential Floridians to offer their views.


Boosting resources for Florida’s public transportation system should be a top priority for candidates running for office in 2018, the latest survey in the Influencer Series found.

Asked to rate several proposed solutions to fix Florida’s infrastructure and transportation problems, 80 percent of the Influencers — a group of 50 of the state’s leading figures — said increasing funding for buses and local mass transit projects was “very important.”

“Safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation is key to improving the general welfare of Floridians,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami. “Florida must dedicate serious resources to providing alternative methods of mobility for all of its residents.”

Throughout the election season, Influencers from the political, business, academic and faith communities will weigh on the biggest challenges facing Florida in surveys conducted by the Miami Herald, Bradenton Herald and el Nuevo Herald . Readers identified infrastructure as one of the top five issues on their minds as they prepare to head to the polls.

The American Civil Society of Engineers, which issues reports cards on each state’s infrastructure system every four years, gave Florida a “C” in its most recent edition. The ACSE also ranked the condition of Florida’s transit 19th nationally and its overall funding placed Florida 22nd in the nation.

In the latest survey, Influencers ranked facilitating private funding for high-speed rail to connect cities second among potential solutions, with 46 percent of Influencers saying that was very important, followed by increasing funding for building roads and highways with 32 percent, limiting population growth with 24 percent and allowing private toll projects for highway construction with 17 percent.

Greater investments in public transportation, the Influencers said, would help reduce traffic congestion in major cities and spur economic growth across Florida.

“Solutions for meeting Florida’s growing transportation needs will have to come from enhanced mass transit, telecommuting, and reduction in urban sprawl,” said Bob Ward, the president, of the Florida Council of 100. “Simply put, Florida can’t build itself out of congestion.’”

More than half of the Influencers said they were either “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with how well Florida as a whole is funding infrastructure to support its growing population. Only one-in-five said they were “satisfied.”

The Influencers were even more critical of their local officials: 63 percent said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with how their region was providing for its infrastructure needs, while 17 percent said they were “satisfied.” None of the Influencers said they were “very satisfied” with the level state or local government funding.

“The state should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and look for ways to incentivize interlocal and regional planning and cooperation, so that local governments can develop … solutions that are cost effective and will work for their particular demographics and needs,” said Rebecca O’Hara, the deputy general counsel of the Florida League of Cities.

Influencers from South Florida in particular advocated for creative solutions to address the state’s broader transportation issues. Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski proposed a system where private cars have restricted access on certain days. Victoria Kasdan, the executive director of We Care Manatee, suggested ferry services and highway tolls with variable rates would help reduce traffic.

Comfort and convenience for public transportation riders also came up. Brian Keeley, the president and CEO of Baptist Health South Florida, recommended adding WiFi to light rail transit, while Mike Finney, the president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, was a proponent of amenities like covered bus stops and air conditioning at train stations to combat unfavorable weather.

Above all, Chris Caines, the the executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative at Florida International University, said the state needs to be flexible in its transportation approach.

“We must focus on malleable transit options that can be adapted to changing modes of transportation,” Caines said. “In less than 10 years, ‘Uber’ and ‘Lyft’ went from nonsense words to verbs. We’d do well to appreciate the exponential rate of innovation and change in our communities today and plan accordingly.”

Readers who participated in the conversation with Influencers via the “Your Voice” online tool were most interested in mobility between major cities in Florida. So this week’s survey posed this question to the Influencers: “What can the state do to increase mass transit between key metropolitan areas to reduce traffic congestion and increase convenience?”

Overall, the Influencers were supportive of a high-speed rail system, as long as it is tailored to the needs of the individual communities it is serving. Earlier this year, the privately-owned passenger rail service Brightline launched, connecting Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami, with plans to extend to Orlando and Tampa.

“Rail can make a big difference especially if there are good options for secondary transport from stations to destinations,” said Julie Wraithmell, the executive director of Audubon Florida. “In the best-case scenario, smart community design enables people to live near where they work, or at the very least work in locations easily accessible to mass transit terminals.”

Each survey in the series also asks the Influencers to rate how well they think candidates running for office in Florida are generally focusing on policy solutions. With the state’s primary elections just over six weeks away, 32 percent of respondents said they candidates were addressing the issues “slightly well” while 30 percent said it was still “too early to say.”

Another 17 percent thought candidates were focusing on policy concerns “not at all” well, while 15 percent said “slightly well” and seven percent said “fairly well.” In all three surveys, no Influencer has yet to say candidates are addressing issues important to voters “very well.”

This is the third of a series of surveys the Miami Herald will conduct with 50 Influencers through the November elections to help focus media and candidate discussion around the policy issues of most importance to Floridians. Look for the next report in two weeks when Influencers will talk about the issue of guns. Share your thoughts and questions about the state’s important policy challenges and solutions here.

For more reaction from our Influencers on infrastructure issues, look for their quotes on Tuesday’s Opinion page.

George Haj contributed reporting.

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