As the year comes to an end, let’s briefly look in the rear-view mirror: At this time last year, Miami-Dade motorists were trapped in traffic gridlock — and county leaders seemed caught flatfooted as they gazed, dazed, in the proverbial headlights.
The thinking among county traffic honchos was that not much could be done. We needed big money for massive projects that only the feds could finance, and it looked unlikely that they would. The Herald Editorial Board decided to champion the issue and launched its H*ll on Wheels initiative.
We asked readers to tell us what needed to be fixed — and received an avalanche of responses. And we took county officials to task.
Today, residents are still trapped in traffic — OK, we couldn’t work miracles — but there’s planning, a mission, a cohesion of purpose. There’s hope. That “no-can-do” attitude has been replaced with fresh objectives and new blood in key traffic positions tackling the problem.
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Now, there seems to be an urgency to find solutions — nontraditional, smart solutions that depend more on ingenuity than on spending millions. The focus is on working with what we have and improving it; not reinventing the mousetrap, but making it more efficient.
That’s a big improvement, and we praise county officials, especially Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr. for their hard work in turning the ship around. Other commissioners have also stepped up with solid ideas: Rebeca Sosa, Daniella Levine Cava, Dennis Moss, Xavier Suarez, Sally Heyman and, especially, Jean Monestime, chair of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Also, Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who are helping their cities fix traffic woes with trolleys and streetcars. Kudos to all for their leadership.
Here are some key events in the last year that have improved our gridlock outlook:
▪ Mayor Gimenez led a charge, budgeting for the synchronization of street lights and upgrading of public buses. The mayor hired a new head of transportation, Alice Bravo, who has brought a fresher vision to the department.
Ms. Bravo hit the ground running and has already instituted several small, but significant, pieces of the fix-it puzzle. Just last week, she launched Express Metrorail service to downtown Miami. This means that commuters can climb get to their destinations more quickly, enduring fewer stops.
▪ Mr. Bovo became chair of the commission’s Transportation and Mobility Committee. The commissioner has brought a gust of fresh air — and ideas. Smartly, he has told the Editorial Board that the county must engineer at least one successful traffic project to help erase the distrust created over the betrayal of the half-penny transportation tax.
Then maybe they’ll step up financially again. Mr. Bovo has also focused on an east-west corridor traffic solution. Maybe.
▪ The Metropolitan Planning Organization, a little-known but important agency that approves all county transportation projects, has hired a new executive director who has vowed to help refocus our traffic future.
▪ The MDX, the agency that sets tolls and maintains those highways, this year unveiled new tolls. The backlash has prompted a new push to improve its public image. For starters, it’s offering motorists refunds. “We could engage motorists better,” MDX CEO Javier Rodriguez recently told the board. He’s right.
Our streets may not be less congested in 2016. But county leaders now realize that the problem exists and that the public expects effective solutions.