With Miami-Dade commuters screaming for relief from the county’s nightmarish traffic, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees local transit projects, approved a plan last week to build six new rail lines. As pipe dreams go, this one’s a doozy.
It makes for great election-year headlines about diligent public servants taking bold action to rescue harried commuters. There’s just one tiny hitch: There’s no money to support this grandiose plan, and no practical means of getting it.
And you can bet it would cost tons of money merely to come up with an updated transit plan for those commuter lines, not to mention the unfathomable amounts necessary to build six actual new rail lines in dense urban settings.
Here’s a question we’d love to see answered: How much money has been spent by the MPO and other public agencies over the years to produce plans for mass transit that went absolutely nowhere? And how much money is it going to cost to come up with the new plan?
The picture of Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo sitting on the MPO dais behind a stack of unrealized plans to expand mass transit said it all: We’ve been down this path before, and we’re still stuck in gridlock, with nothing more to show for it than piles of yellowing paper and volumes of empty promises.
We get that before there’s money, there has to be a plan. And before there’s a plan, there has to be a vision. And before there’s a vision, there has to be a dream. But Miami-Dade residents have had enough of dreams. The political leaders on the MPO board have to deal with reality, which entails a host of hard political compromises.
It comes down to this: The county’s public transit needs would require about $12 billion. The half-penny sales tax increase that voters approved for transit in 2002 may be able to generate a couple billion dollars in bonds to build one new line. But there’s no way it’s enough for six lines.
So what the MPO and the Miami-Dade County Commission should focus on — what is more realistic — is to begin by building one line. The problem is politics. Should the line go in the north part of the county, which has been waiting seemingly forever? Should it go down toward Homestead, another neglected part of the county that houses a lot of employees who work downtown and have the longest commute?
Which line should go first? That’s the tough question commissioners have been ducking for years.
It’s encouraging to see that county leaders understand the urgent need for action to resolve the county’s transit problem. The gridlock and the traffic jams are unbearable. But deciding to do everything at the same time is not a practical approach.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez fears that the scramble to establish priorities will become a public food fight, with no one willing to made concessions. He’s probably right, sadly, but it’s either that or get nothing done. Trying to do everything at once puts a transit solution on a fast track to nowhere.
Mr. Bovo is right about one thing: Unless county leaders can actually build one line, the public will never have confidence in local government’s ability to go beyond making promises, nor will voters be willing to back another tax increase for transit. If Daddy’s never delivered on the promise of a pony for Christmas, why believe he can come up with six ponies next time around?