Commuters are still stuck in traffic on any given day, but there are signs that transportation policymakers are on the move. Anyone who tries to get around sprawling and clogged Miami-Dade County has every reason to ask: Are they moving fast enough? And are they headed in the right direction?
It has taken decades of dysfunction and disjointed planning to get this community to this car-choked condition. “Connectivity” is the word of the moment on policymakers’ lips, though not every one agrees on the route to attain it. In fact, there is no one place to turn, no, say, transit czar, who is leading the way with a solid mobility vision. And a transit czar is not necessarily what’s needed.
Still, who will take the lead — vocally, publicly, inclusively — to bring common sense, clarity and vision to Miami-Dade’s blurry transportation picture?
The 23-member Metropolitan Planning Organization is the closest entity that bears the responsibility. Last month, the Editorial Board echoed MPO critics — some who are members — lamenting “its lack of urgency to help fix our traffic problems as their constituents cry out for a solution.” The June 7 editorial’s headline urged it to, “Heal thyself.”
This month, at a special committee meeting of the MPO, which is made up of the entire Miami-Dade County Commission, several cities’ mayors and governor appointees, heard one of its members, Commissioner Dennis Moss, according to the El Nuevo Herald’s transportation reporter Al Chardy, exhort his colleagues to “craft the vision and tell the agencies to do it.” In other words, playing a more proactive role in the county’s transportation future.
We know the MPO has no funding for transportation projects. Its power lies in its ability to say No — or, more often, Yes — to transportation projects. However, this piecemeal-project approach has been less than effective.
The MPO is finally moving forward to choose an executive director, a position vacant since last fall. The selection process must be transparent, and all members’ voices heard. Then, that new hire must ensure that the MPO asserts itself — vocally, publicly, inclusively — as the steward for the entire county. The MPO’s current chair, Jean Monestime — who also chairs the County Commission — and his immediate predecessor, Commissioner Rebeca Sosa push back against critics who say the board is too big and unwieldy. They say that the interests of all parts of the county need MPO representation. They’re right, but representation has deteriorated into parochialism that stunts smart planning and solutions.
This year, the MPO dodged a legislative bullet; a proposal to reduce its size went nowhere. However, could a leaner MPO, one with independent urban-planning and transportation experts whose only interest is in creating an overarching master plan to implement, be worth considering?
It’s up to the current members of the MPO to show us that it’s a bad idea.