At first blush, one would think that the transportation SMART plan is at a standstill in Miami-Dade County. Admittedly, there are some deep differences in the community as to the technology desired, resulting in what can fairly be described as “paralysis by analysis.”
We reached the low point in the County Commission's first meeting in March. We were asked to extend planning, development and environmental studies another 12 months. When we asked transit staff how this would affect that actual start of construction, they responded that it would be another five years.
There are other impediments. Administration and most of the commission are at odds as to whether to build rail extensions or buy more buses. None of this helps our prospects to complete the $3.6 billion SMART plan.
And yet, a closer look at the plan's six main corridors reveals not only more consensus, but also more progress.
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The Northeast corridor, for example, already is almost fully constructed by a private company using its own funds. The four-city service is called Brightline. It is stalled on the north end connecting Palm Beach to Orlando, but is just about completed from Miami to Palm Beach. All we have to do is negotiate track access fees and work with the cities to permit transit stops using their own funds.
The Miami-to-Miami Beach connection, Baylink, has generated two “sunshine meetings” in which the mayors of the two cities and of Miami-Dade County have reached consensus on the use of personal rapid transit, which not only is extremely cheap, but also amenable to having private users sharing the guideways. Perhaps their best feature, in the long run, is that privately owned and automated vehicles can be used on the same guideway.
For Baylink, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is pushing for immediate local funding through a special assessment district as was done for the Metromover extensions.
The two longest corridors, totaling almost half of the 60+ miles of the SMART plan, have been approved for funding and technology (at least in principle) by the entire commission and the Transportation Planning Organization.
That leaves the east-west connector and the Kendall corridor. Because these have lagged as to both location and funding, I have put forward a unanimously approved resolution for a system of free trolleys for the unincorporated areas, effectively emulating what cities have done with their 20 percent of the half-cent in sales tax.
City-operated trolleys have already reached ridership figures that exceed 12 million a year and will possibly eclipse the entire Metrorail ridership by the year 2020.
Trolleys may not be a long-term substitute for the missing mass transit lines, but they surely solve the immediate need and incentivize us to move out of our cars and toward some form of mass transit.
Xavier Suarez represents District 7 on the Miami-Dade County Commission.