Op-Ed

Traffic’s a mess — we need leadership

TNS

Traffic is a mess and getting worse. Our population keeps growing, new high rises are popping up (with garages) and our quality of life is going down because of gridlock. It’s a topic that has finally gotten everyone’s attention, commuters, transit and bus riders, bicyclists and, importantly, our elected officials.

There is a growing realization in Miami-Dade County that, as a region, we have failed to meet our current transportation needs and have not made much progress in the 30 years since Metrorail was constructed.

The Miami-Dade County League of Cities formed a transportation committee several years ago because it recognized something has to be done to address the growing strangulation and gridlock in our community and the decreasing quality of life resulting from cars, traffic and congestion.

After much work and investigation into the problems our communities face, the committee came to the realization that the county’s transportation-related issues lacked coordination and an overall comprehensive plan.

Yes, individually the county mayor advocates a light rail to Miami Beach, the mayor of Miami would like to see light rail from downtown to midtown, commuters in Kendall cry out for better access to Metrorail, the communities along U.S. 1 in south Miami-Dade see a busway that is underutilized and lacks adequate parking facilities, FIU and Doral would like to have bus rapid transit (BRT) to downtown on Route 836, and the communities west of I-95, from the Civic Center to Miami Gardens, continue to seek better transit options.

What is missing, however, is leadership on the part of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the federally mandated, legislatively created organization that is supposed to provide leadership and a comprehensive long-term plan to deal with our transportation needs.

Unfortunately, it has not done the job because of its structure.

The MPO is composed of 23 voting members including the entire 13-member County Commission, representatives from six cities with a population of more than 50,000, two positions for a municipal representative and a nonelected official, a representative each from MDX and the Miami-Dade County School Board and, additionally, two nonvoting members from FDOT.

As can readily be seen, the MPO has a large and unwieldy governing board where it is frequently difficult to reach a quorum so business can be conducted and direction given to professional staff. Unfortunately, because of its organizational structure, the reputation of the MPO in transportation and transit circles locally and beyond is that of excessive parochialism in meeting our transportation needs and a failure to provide a clear and coherent vision, both of which may impede current efforts to hire a new executive director.

The MPO needs to be streamlined and reorganized to have fewer members. A restructured MPO should include the county mayor, the chairman of the County Commission and chairman of the commission’s transportation committee, one municipal representative chosen by the governor and one chosen by the Miami-Dade League of Cities, a representative from MDX, and one from the School Board, and nonvoting representatives from CITT and DOT District 6.

While the final composition is negotiable, the important thing is to make the MPO more manageable, similar to how Jackson Hospital recently restructured to be more nimble and efficient in decision-making and long-term planning.

Not to reorganize the MPO would be a mistake of the highest magnitude. The good news is many of those knowledgeable people involved with trying to solve our county’s transportation/transit/gridlock problems recognize that reorganizing the MPO is a critical and necessary step. Our committee has spoken to mayors, county commissioners, elected municipal officials, and others concerning our transportation future — and they recognize a vital and dynamic reorganized MPO is critical to our future.

James E. McDonald is a member of the Village of Pinecrest Council and chairman, Miami-Dade League of Cities Transportation Committee. Francis X. Suarez is City of Miami Commissioner District 4 and vice-chairman, Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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