Transit answers from Denver

Denver’s D-Line is one example of light rail that could work in Miami-Dade.
Denver’s D-Line is one example of light rail that could work in Miami-Dade. REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION DISTRICT

Are the answers to Miami-Dade’s transportation problems to be found thousands of miles away in the city of Denver? Fresh from a fact-finding trip to the Mile High City, scores of Miami-Dade decision-makers returned with the belief that, yes, Denver’s transit turnaround is a blueprint to emulate.

Denver’s multilayered, private and publicly funded transportation system is now considered among the most efficient in the country, just as the future of public transportation in Miami-Dade has become a critical issue. Local leaders are looking for inspiration.

A strict duplication can’t happen, said County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who took the trip, because the hefty federal funding Denver drew down for rail and light rail is not available to Miami-Dade. But, he told the Editorial Board, the spirit of what Denver has done is a guidepost.

Days after the trip, the mayor says he’s giving the effort to tackle our time-robbing gridlock, a motto: “Let’s get it done!” a takeoff on Denver’s more irreverent battle cry: “Let’s build something, stupid.” But the message is clear — let’s act and stop talking, a sentiment Mayor Gimenez and others are wise to embrace.

“I can’t say we’ll resolve our transportation problems, but we can ease them,” Mayor Gimenez said. Yes, it’s the run-up to an election year for the mayor, still his commitment is a sign of responsible leadership.

The Denver trip, attended by almost 60 locals and organized by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s transportation committee, is the latest sign that Miami-Dade is getting its act together on how to grapple with the gridlock problem strangling our community.

The trip to Denver is the latest significant effort by those who are accountable for easing our traffic woes to send the message that they know the situation is untenable.

In the last month, Mayor Gimenez named a new county transit director; he identified $2 billion in excess funding capacity over the next 30 years for transportation projects; he’s allocated money to synchronize street lights in troublesome intersections. He also wants a seat on two crucial boards — the toll-imposing MDX and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, known as the MPO and charged with giving the go-ahead to major transportation projects.

The low-key MPO will soon become a more visible player when it hires a new executive director — and not a moment too soon. MPO chairman Commissioner Jean Monestime told the Board he wants the new head to be a public face in the war against gridlock. An MPO search committee has picked six finalists, from which the executive director will be chosen.

Despite the inspiring trip, those attending said changes will be slow. It took Denver 15 years to fix its traffic problems, but the outcome has transformed the city. It has built several Metrorail-type train corridors, including one that goes to the airport. There are also five lines of light rail and an excellent system of express buses.

Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., who chairs the county’s transportation committee, said he was impressed by something else during the Denver trip: the apparent trust between taxpayers and Denver officials, something lacking here because of the unkept promises of the half-penny transit tax.

“The most important take-away from Denver is how they made a commitment to the voters, and they are delivering,” Mr. Bovo told the Board.

Now, if we can only do the same in Miami-Dade.