Our traffic woes might scare away Amazon

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. could be wrong. He resolutely predicted last week that Amazon, hunting for a city in which to locate its second headquarters, won’t come to the Miami area because of its horrendous traffic, undercut by a public transportation system as inadequate as it is disjointed.

Several cities are vying for Amazon’s favor, for with it comes the potential for 50,000 jobs.

In a smart display of regional thinking, Miami-Dade joined with Broward and Palm Beach counties to make a pitch. And the region is still in there pitching, despite what polls and prognosticaters have indicated. However, Bovo wasn’t gazing into a crystal ball when he spoke so resolutely at a County Commission meeting on transportation. Moody’s ranked Miami No. 7 among the areas vying to be Amazon’s second home. It rightly got high marks for its business climate and the quality of life it could offer newcomers with well-paying jobs.

But transportation? Only Atlanta kept Miami from coming in dead last in Moody’s rankings. In other words, greater Miami’s transportation challenges are no longer the area’s dirty little secret. Word is out, and it stands to stunt the economic growth of smart, clean, large-scale industry.

That’s a huge heads-up. But transit leaders continue to dither.

The encouraging news in all this is that greater Miami’s leaders finally have put this issue front and center. In addition, this new focus brings with it the realization that the car no longer is king; that new generations, younger generations want to hop on a train, a bus, a trolley, and be there, unburdened by the costly question of what to do with the car.

More discouraging, however, is for all the talk of getting Miami moving on effective public transportation; for all the plans with clever names; and with all the cranes hovering in the air downtown, promising housing for thousands more residents — whether full- or part-time — there is hardly anything on wheels to show for it, much less to hitch a ride on.

Official indecision and the lack of funding continue to cost us. Then there’s the trust issue. At that meeting last week, commissioners approved cutting bus routes. The sales tax that voters approved is not generating the funds required. By the way, those funds, which elected leaders 15 years ago promised would be used for big-ticket transit projects, instead were squandered on the small stuff. County taxpayers have every reason to look askance at any future entreaties for more transit funds.

In 2016, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, (recently renamed the Transportation Planning Organization), unveiled the SMART Plan. This initiative lays out six major corridors in the county slated for major public-transit enhancements.

At the time, the Editorial Board called it a “doozy.” More than a year later, there’s been no major announcement telling residents that they have something — anything — to which to look forward. There’s been no consensus at the highest levels. How much longer will sticking points impede progress? County Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants high-tech buses, not rail expansion. Bovo, who deserves credit for focusing a stronger light on the the county’s transportation challenges, is sticking with rail expansion, which is costlier. And the one quickly viable project to the north, incorporating existing rail lines, hasn’t seemed to have gotten any traction, which is a shame.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, chair of the powerful Transportation Committee in the House, waits, and waits, for the county to hand him a cohesive plan that would help him secure federal funding for the county’s transit dreams. “Come on, man,” he told the Editorial Board in August, “Use me!”

This remains an offer that the county simply can’t continue to refuse.