Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez tried to make a persuasive case that rapid buses are the better way to get people around town. Rail, which he originally embraced, is passé, he told the Editorial Board, so “19th century.”
But not everyone agrees with the mayor’s new abrupt, rejection of expanded rail. As he adopts this new reality, he must convince Miami-Dade residents, still waiting for the rail promised from the 2002 half-penny transportation tax, that he’s right.
He also needs to bring on board all governmental entities that plan and help pay for transportation projects, including the Transportation Planning Organization, the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, MDX, FDOT, and, most important, county commissioners. For now, they’re sticking with the rail dream.
They thought that all the stakeholders, including Gimenez, were on board with rail and heading in the same direction. Now, Gimenez has made a sudden left turn — and without signaling.
“I don’t understand it; we’ve all been working on this transportation plan for two years,” Commissioner Xavier Suarez said. “Fortunately, it’s not all up to the mayor.”
Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. told the Editorial Board that the mayor’s announcement was a “head-scratcher” — “And it makes us look like we’re not all on the same page.”
However, the mayor says he is being realistic and, indeed, his alternative should be taken seriously if residents are ever going to live to see high-speed public transportation that cuts hours from their commutes each week. Gimenez proposes giving up on waiting for federal funding for expanded rail. His pared-down thinking now calls for using $534 million mainly in local money to quickly deliver on the county’s transportation SMART Plan — a blueprint to fix six critically overloaded traffic corridors. One has existing rail capability; the others that could be done most quickly would get tricked-out buses.
In the northeast corridor, the county would negotiate for the right-of-way to use the existing Brightline railway tracks and unused Tri-Rail trains to serve commuters jumping on at Aventura, North Miami Beach, and North Miami headed to downtown Miami. “We can have this corridor running by next year,” the mayor said. Go for it, transportation leaders. You need a win.
Additional monies would come from the private sector and from cities along those corridors. North Miami Beach Mayor George Vallejo and City Manager Ana Garcia recently told the Editorial Board that there are city funds to help build a rail station at Northeast 163rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard. “For us, this would be a game-changer,” Vallejo said. We commend these officials’ eagerness to transform their city.
The mayor also proposes sleek, train-car-like rapid buses for the U.S. 1 corridor to the south and the 27th Avenue corridor to the north. He told the board he’s applying the “art of the possible” — a principle focusing not on what’s best, but on what can actually get done.
Too many transit promises have been broken, the squandering of PTP funds among them. Rail, too, is another long-time promise. Its proponents now have to decide whether it’s worth holding out and telling South Dade commuters, for instance, that their two-and-a-half-hour-each-way commute will slog on indefinitely or if getting them from Point A to Point B quickly, safely, and efficiently sooner is the priority.
Mayor Gimenez has a good case for the latter. He’s going to have to make it a persuasive one.