Is the SMART Plan for Miami-Dade transit dead? You asked, we answered

John Cervera, a recent graduate of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, has always been a public transit nerd.

He used to ogle at the subways in Washington, D.C., and think about how without reliable mass transit, Miami is one step short of becoming what he calls a “world-class city.”

When the rendering of the SMART Plan, or the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit Plan, was first introduced in 2016, Cervera cheered.

“I live out west, in West Kendall. I imagined how amazing it would be to take the train according to the SMART Plan,” Cervera said. “I feel like I never heard about it ever again. ... I definitely feel nonplussed.”

Following a transportation-related survey of the Florida Influencers, a group of 50 prominent political and policy figures from across the state, the Miami Herald asked readers what they want to know about how we get from one place to another in Florida.

Cervera asked: “Is the SMART plan dead in the water?”

Not exactly. It’s just moving slowly.

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The SMART Plan was adopted in April 2016 by the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization’s governing board after it was unveiled during Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s reelection campaign.

The goal of the SMART Plan is to offer more choices to reduce traffic, improve public transit reliability, make the public less reliant on cars and improve access to major commercial areas, tourist attractions and work opportunities.

The SMART Plan lays out new transit corridors for rail, Bus Rapid Transit and Baylink. TPO

It also revived hopes for countywide expansion of rail first promised to voters in 2002, when they approved a referendum that created a one-half percent ⁠— or “half-penny” ⁠— local surtax in order to improve six rapid transit corridors throughout the county through a local initiative called the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP).

The corridors would offer commuters new options to get to downtown Miami: Those coming from the western suburbs could avoid State Road 836 traffic and South Miami-Dade residents could cruise up U.S. 1 via a train that links to the existing Dadeland South Metrorail station.

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Other lines would run along Kendall Drive in southwest Miami-Dade, Northwest 27th Avenue in Miami Gardens, and near Biscayne Boulevard in northeast Miami-Dade. The last line would connect neighborhoods like the Design District and Wynwood with South Beach, through a beach corridor train running across the MacArthur Causeway.

In order to pay for the SMART Plan, the county is pursuing federal grant funding, state funding and public-private partnerships.

The planning and project development phase for the six rapid transit corridors was supposed to be complete by late 2018. In August 2018, the County Commission authorized Miami-Dade to pursue a rapid-transit bus system for South Dade, which remains the only SMART corridor attached to an actual transit project. Miami-Dade commissioners last week voted to invite bids for a transit line on the MacArthur after casino operator Genting and a Chinese vehicle maker proposed monorail for that route.

In June, Miami-Dade invited developers to bid on design and construction work for the 20-mile bus system, which involves a $304 million budget, to be completed by 2022. The project includes 14 bus stations allowing for group boarding and advanced ticket sales.

The approval of the bus project came as a disappointment for supporters of expanding Metrorail, who say voters who were promised more rail in exchange for approving a tax that now generates close to $300 million a year.

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Supporters of the bus system, however, say the buses may be the only realistic — and affordable — way to help commuters in the near future. It’s a short-term alternative to Metrorail, which consultants say is a more popular but much more expensive option.

By Fall 2019, the transportation board is supposed to have settled on which mode of mass transit it wants to use for the Flagler bus system, Beach Corridor, East-West Corridor and Kendall Corridor, according to a SMART Plan fact sheet.

The South-Dade Transitway bus system and North Corridor extended Metrorail were decided on in August and December 2018, respectively.

Various demonstration projects like a Flagami Trolley and a Florida International University trolley, which both started service last summer, are operating. Other demo projects for Metrorail stations are supposed to be up and running by the end of the year. Express bus service openings for Miami Beach, Southwest Miami-Dade and the Turnpike are set for as late as 2023.

Miami Herald staff writer Doug Hanks contributed to this report.

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.
Doug Hanks covers Miami-Dade government for the Herald. He’s worked at the paper for nearly 20 years, covering real estate, tourism and the economy before joining the Metro desk in 2014.
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