MPO, heal thyself


Miami-Dade traffic is a mess, and there's plenty of blame to go around.

But we’re going to start at the top with the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization Governing Board, or the MPO, the powerful, under-the-radar planning board charged with studying and giving funding approval to every major transportation project paid for by federal, state and county governments in the last 30 years.

As local residents squirm under the vise of traffic congestion, how effective a job the elected officials on the federally-created MPO board are doing has come under scrutiny. The 23-member board — all 13 Miami-Dade commissioners, several municipal mayors and two governor-appointees — has been dogged by infighting on the dais and an ambush reform attempt by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, one of the board’s most vociferous critics.

Under the rules of cause and effect, Mr. Levine says that no resident of Miami-Dade would give the MPO an A for the work it has done. After all, every local highway project it has approved involving the Palmetto Expressway, State Road 836 and I-95 is today proving inadequate, bursting at the seams. Not entirely the MPO’s fault, but a sign of less than visionary planning. “Thirty years and really, zero to show for it,” Mr. Levine told the Editorial Board. A bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit given rampant sprawl.

Today, MPO meetings are frequently canceled, some members say; a quorum is hard to reach; members, mainly the county commissioners, can be territorial on the dais. Little appears to get done, a charge MPO’s interim executive director Jesus Guerra adamantly refuted to the board.

Commissioner Rebeca Sosa defends the work of the MPO and its 15-member staff. She says the MPO has shepherded and completed more than 200 projects since 2012. And she rejects the idea that the board members are territorial.

But let’s face it. The problem is the structure of the MPO, which has too many elected officials vying for turf, putting their own political agendas for their districts or cities ahead of the greater goal of getting the entire county moving in the right direction. Some elected officials serving on the MPO have denounced its lack of urgency to help fix our traffic problems as their constituents cry out for a solution. Plus, for months, the MPO has been without an executive director; in other words, rudderless. This lackadaisical attitude concerns some members.

“Traffic congestion is the most pressing problem in our community. It will affect our children and their children, yet the MPO is not nimble enough to react quickly to this reality,” said MPO Vice Chair Francis Suarez, who is a city of Miami commissioner.

Even one of the longest-serving and most respected members of the MPO, Perla Tabares Hantman, chair of the School Board, says she’s frustrated by what she sees. “I want the MPO board to succeed, but it just seems lately that very little is getting done.”

Commissioner Esteban Bovo, Jr., MPO member and head of the county’s transportation committee, said change may be in order. “We need to challenge ourselves to improve the way we do things, if that means looking at the MPO and revising our procedures, makeup and protocols then so be it.” It’s a sentiment shared by yet another member, Maurice Ferre.

We agree. The MPO needs to do a better job as the head of the unwieldy effort to get us out of traffic hell.

ON MONDAY: Some observers say the MPO can heal itself.

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