I have been concerned about transportation solutions that have been recently proposed for a quick-fix approach to the SMART Plan. The most prominent issues affecting Miami-Dade residents are traffic and congestion on our roadways.
As the most populous county in Florida, we keep finding ourselves confronted with mass transportation problems that are addressed with both unreliable and undesirable means. We need real solutions to these issues that do not keep placing more people on our already congested roadways and provide an “alternative” transportation mode that will help large numbers of residents navigate our county. In 2002, Miami-Dade voters approved a half-percent local surtax to improve rapid transit corridors within the county through the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP). At the time, voters believed that this funding source would provide new and innovative ways of getting them around. Unfortunately, the county fell short.
This past legislative session, I sponsored House Bill 1049, along with my colleagues from the Miami-Dade Delegation, to provide drivers toll relief, make express lane fees more equitable, and secure a funding stream requiring the Miami-Dade Expressway Authorities (MDX) to dedicate between 20 percent and 50 percent of surplus revenues into Miami-Dade transit projects. These revenues would be vital in providing funding for the corridors of the SMART plan that represent millions of dollars that Miami-Dade needs for development and construction.
Today, those who live in and visit Miami-Dade, which has more than 2.6 million residents and more than 15 million visitors this past year, are eagerly waiting for these transportation solutions to come to fruition. In April 2016, the county and the Metropolitan Planning Organization (now the Transportation Planning Organization: developed the SMART Plan. It is a comprehensive plan that proposed six rapid mass transit corridors throughout the county, providing a blueprint for connecting the vast reaches of the county and offers residents and visitors with reliable transit alternatives in their efforts to move around.
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During the past year, the SMART plan has not only been discussed and adopted as a unified transportation solution by the county and TPO, but also the County Commission and several municipalities. Local, state, and federal elected officials and transportation partners from our region have expressed their commitment to work together with the county, cities, and private sector to initiate the SMART Plan. It is with this type of collaborative partnership and forward thinking that the implementation of the SMART Plan can be achieved.
As the county continues to grow, it is imperative to provide reliable transit alternatives. Applying the SMART Plan will benefit our daily commuters and visitors, attract more businesses to our community and provide new job opportunities for the working families. I would encourage the County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the County Commission and the TPO to continue working together in finding innovative ways to fund and implement the SMART Plan. They should look at the best practices of other communities that have successfully developed mass transit solutions.
These solutions should not only include local, state, and federal partnerships, but also the business community to establish public-private partnerships.
Let’s assure the SMART Plan does not become a broken promise to the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County. It is a step in the right direction to efficiently address the community’s transit problems and do what is right for the future of residents.
Rene Garcia is a state senator representing District 36 in Miami-Dade County.