The new state transportation chief in Miami-Dade says one of his priorities to help ease traffic congestion is to persuade more drivers to leave their vehicles at home.
"Right now, over 95 percent of commuters in Miami-Dade are in passenger cars and that percentage has to change," Jim Wolfe said in an interview last week. "It doesn't have to go down to zero, but if it goes down to 90, goes down to 85, that's going to go a tremendous way toward changing this county in a positive way."
Wolfe's statements mark a milestone in county and state efforts to deal with the chronically congested traffic in Miami-Dade, where backups on highways and major surface roads have become hot-button issues for politicians who are getting an earful from commuters angered by slow commutes, high tolls and limited mass-transit options.
The new chief of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Miami office did not offer a magic solution to the county's traffic woes.
But he did offer support for Miami-Dade strategies aimed at enticing people to ride transit more and drive their cars less. Those strategies are known as "SMART Plan" and "Bus Rapid Transit," or BRT.
Smart Plan was announced in April during a meeting of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization. It involves construction, at some point in the future, of six transit lines under a plan known as Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit, or SMART.
The six transit lines would seek to ferry commuters from western suburbs to jobs in the dense urban areas along the eastern shore, including a link between Miami and Miami Beach.
Among BRT lines the planning organization has been considering for a while are corridors along Kendall Drive, Flagler Street and 27th Avenue. BRT lines are enhanced bus services that resemble more a Metrorail service than just a bus moving amid traffic.
Each bus would have a dedicated lane and would stop at stations where passengers would board from raised platforms aligned with vehicle doors so people don't have to climb steps. Similar services are operating in Bogotá, Colombia, where it's known as TransMilenio and Mexico City, where it's called Metrobús.
"The SMART plan is a great idea and I'm going to be supportive of that," Wolfe said in the interview. "The six transit plans plus BRT. The SMART plan is important because while it's not aimed at getting everybody out of their cars, it's to create an option, get people moving better and provide relief for everybody."
Besides transit strategies, Wolfe said a significant project likely be started under his watch is the reconstruction of the Interstate 395 signature bridge near the Arscht Center that will link highway to the MacArthur Causeway.
"That project is in final selection with the contractor right now," Wolfe said. "That's going to be a landmark project."
When Wolfe headed the FDOT office in Fort Lauderdale, the landmark project the agency undertook was the reconstruction of I-595 whose central feature was reversible express lanes. Expanding the I-95 express lane network from Miami-Dade into Broward County was another signature project for Wolfe's office at the time.