Saving travel time for our 2.7 million Miami-Dade County residents remains a top priority for my administration – not only for our residents in the South Corridor but throughout our county.
So I appreciate former Mayor Alex Penelas’ passion for the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP), as reflected in his recent column published in the Miami Herald in which he pushed for rail that would cost taxpayers four times more than the bus rapid transit system that would travel as fast as a Metrorail car and afford all the amenities of rail with new, high-tech buses and stations.
It’s unfortunate my friend’s proposed solutions are, at best, misguided. Let’s not ignore the facts and the public record. I’m dealing with the facts because passion, however well-intended, doesn’t pay the bill for pie-in-the-sky promises made almost two decades ago and derailed virtually from the first day the plan was approved.
FFirst, having the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) pick rail for the U.S. 1 South Corridor at a cost of $1.3 billion (street level) to $2.2 billion (elevated) would gobble up at least 70 percent of available transit funds for the next 40 years. That leaves less than 30 percent for all other areas, including the highly congested Northeast Corridor where rail makes the most sense based on population density.
Residents in the north, east and west of our county all need relief, and funding should be spread out to reach the entire community. The South Corridor does not have the density or the ridership to justify rail – the facts, based on transportation studies, are clear. I would ask the voters in the north, east and west to remember this fact when politicians that supported rail in the south come asking for your vote.
Penelas accurately states that the PTP that voters approved in 2002 assumed state and federal funding. This is the fault line for some politicians when they promised rail for the corridors before the necessary studies and federal ratings were completed.
In the past, the federal government may have funded rail systems for up to 50 percent of the building costs, and the state would provide up to 25 percent of those costs, leaving the county to pay the other 25 percent for construction. However, that funding formula is only possible when the federal government gives at least a “medium” rating for a project. If a project is given a low rating, like the North Corridor was given when it received a “medium-low” rating several years ago, no federal funds will be allocated and the state would not likely step in to fill the funding gap, leaving Miami-Dade to fund the majority of the project. This is why the county withdrew its application for the North Corridor many years ago – before I was mayor. It is likely that the South Corridor, without the necessary ridership or density, would not receive a favorable rating. We will have lost valuable time pursuing a rail project that is not feasible, and residents in the area will continue to be stuck.
Second, the former mayor wants the County Commission to create a $92 million hole in the budget to use the half-penny transportation tax only on new projects. What critical services would he propose the county cut? Public safety? Parks? Meals for our elderly? The county has a responsible five-year plan that I proposed and was approved by commissioners, to wean off of PTP funds (now used to cover part of operations) without impacting current public services.
Third, Penelas suggests that the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust is operated by transit staff. That’s simply not true. The CITT board appoints its executive director, who hires staff to serve that board. Neither I nor county commissioners appoint CITT staff.
Fourth, is Penelas really serious about the county reimbursing money garnered from the half-penny tax misspent since the first day of his administration? I suggest residents read the Herald’s 2008 investigative series “Taken for a Ride” outlining all the misspending in inflated salaries and overtime for hundreds of transportation officials and the bait-and-switch promises that the former mayor himself later admitted he would not have supported. And yet, he was mayor the first two years of these abuses.
Under my administration, we have spent PTP funds in accordance with the ballot language and with the approval of the County Attorney’s Office. I consider “reimbursement” to be a new transit tax on the property owners of Miami-Dade County and I oppose it. That’s about $700 million in double taxation!
When the TPO meets next Thursday it should ignore the political hype and focus on the facts. The BRT system is the best chance South Dade residents have to get moving.
Carlos A. Gimenez has served as Mayor of Miami-Dade County since 2011.