This week, the US DOT released the FY11 Budget, a $79 Billion package best summarized by three key agency priorities: improving transportation safety, investing for the future, and promoting livable communities (this last point is significant, we’ll come back to it in a minute). $10.8 billion (7.3%) of the budget is dedicated to transit projects alone. Some cities, particularly Denver, Honolulu, Hartford, San Francisco, and St. Paul-Minneapolis came out as the big winners with new full funding grant agreements, a pivotal step in the FTA’s New Starts funding process.

While this is all great news - if you take some time to look through the budget you’ll notice our very own, Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension stuck in federal funding limbo. This September, MDT will have their final chance to prove their financial aptitude to the FTA.  As our colleagues over at Streetsblog pointed out, Miami, Boston, and Sacramento face an uphill battle over the coming year in achieving FTA approval.

Now, the important question here is: Why haven’t our local leaders figured out how the federal funding process works? While the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension is a noble project, serving a community that could certainly use some improved transit connectivity, the ugly truth is that it won’t garner the ridership necessary to warrant a $1.3 billion investment. Perhaps our local leaders don’t have the political courage to suggest such a notion. Perhaps it would be far more convenient (politically speaking) if the project dies as a result of the FTA rather than our own missteps. While our local leaders continue to advocate for projects that will never stand a chance in the federal appropriations process, we, the constituents, are affected by the ineffective transportation alternatives available. We all suffer. Our economy suffers. The longterm economic viability and sustainability of our community suffers.

Onto the livability objectives - the USDOT, partnering with the EPA and HUD, have embarked upon an ambitious livable community initiative aimed at integrating efficient transportation with healthy, affordable housing solutions. The livable communities initiative will emphasize integrated development around public transportation and will provide greater funding to communities that enhance accessibility, particularly through non-motorized means.

Since metrorail’s inception in the mid 80’s, what have we accomplished? Most recently, the opening of the I-95 HOT lanes has allowed for expanded BRT-like service between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However this project is partially marred by the fact that (vehicular) capacity was expanded on the corridor to begin with, leading to overall improved travel times (initially) due to the added capacity. The South Miami-Dade Busway, our only other major transportation capital improvement project, has shown some promising success. However, recent attempts at bringing HOT lanes to this corridor, in an effort to “alleviate” congestion along US-1 would prove disastrous and would certainly undermine the new federal goals of encouraging livability.

We’ll leave you with a few points for discussion before we continue this series next week. We invite our readers to use the comment section to continue this important discussion:

  • When Miami-Dade’s bid for the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension inevitably fails later this year, what position should the county ultimately take? What alternative makes the most sense?
  • The County has admitted that it will not be unable to deliver on the promises made in the PTP - what should be done?
  • If the county proposed a new, viable alternative to the PTP with reduced service but actually achievable objectives, would you support it? What routes would be critical in such a plan?

9 Responses to Transit Discussions, Part 1

  1. Kevin says:

    The county needs to instead focus its efforts on light-rail where the existing Orange line expansions are now, OR start over. If they start over, a light rail line that connects Little Havana, Miracle Mile, FIU, South Beach, Midtown, and the Design District. These should be the areas MDT should focus all its efforts on and I think the most financially resonable alternatives are light-rail.

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  2. Johnny Remigio says:

    In the last several years, Homestead/South Dade and the western fringes of our county have grown in large numbers. Some of those areas are planning for even more growth. By 2030, Miami is expected to grow by almost a million residents. We can’t expect to move people efficiently and quickly when our roads are already congested beyond capacity. Multiple remedies are needed. We need rail, light rail, and buses to move us around. I think if residents voice their concerns, county officials can get an idea of what residents want. However, I think the biggest detriment to our ongoing transit problems is attitude. Getting people to leave their cars and not build developments with cars in mind will be our greatest challenge.

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  3. Prem says:

    Projects requiring large amounts of constructions for infrastructure and maintenance are long term investments in geographically sensitive ideologies.
    The metrorail system, for instance, cannot easily be removed, or replaced. it cannot easily be expanded or renovated.
    How many does it serve?

    How many do we want public transportation to serve in the county?
    As many writers have pointed out on this blog in the past, it is only through envisioning a better situation, where 40% or more of the county uses non-singlepassengervehicle to commute, that politicians, engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs can also create the most efficient solutions.

    I have a bias towards buses, and bus solutions because of how easy they are to acquire and manipulate compared to the rigidity of any infrastructure dependent solution.
    The Curitiba area in Brasil moves millions of people daily mostly with buses and dedicated lanes. We already have massive road infrastructure.
    Isn’t there anything better than astronomically priced rail options?

    I think MDT should be completely deconstructed and re-envisioned to better serve the county, and perhaps, one day, require less subsidy.
    Where’s all the overhead?
    Do any transit systems aside from biking pay for themselves?

    These questions interest me a lot more than HSR, pardon.

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  4. Mike Moskos says:

    Here are my 3 ideas, the explanation follows:

    • Increase the number of private bus route operators like the ones in Little Haiti and Hialeah. Do this by minimizing gov. regulation and fees. These bus operators can enhance bus service that Miami Dade transit doesn’t have the budget for. While the new routes/schedules have provided some relief for bus overcrowding, buses remain overflowing on 79th Street and routes to South Beach. At the same time, find a way to lower cab medallion costs so cab rates come down-way down. You’ll have to find a way to reimburse current medallion owners, who paid premium prices, when the government limited the supply of cabs to ensure a better cab experience (read: drive up cab fares).
    • Get transit riders registered to vote and make sure they vote. Miami-Dade County Commission elections are won with small numbers of voters. If you want more transit money, the Commissioners must understand that their jobs depend solely on the transit riders who vote. There’s a lot of us; we can easily overwhelm all other groups.
    • Get shade trees covering every sidewalk and bike path. Only the dedicated (or carless) will walk/bike in the hot South Florida sun.

    To understand my “lowered expectation” ideas, let’s look at our current reality:
    • Auto sales are down 40%. With decreased household incomes and realistic credit terms, those sales are not going up any time soon (if ever). Eventually the rolling stock will wear out, forcing more people to use transit.
    • Oil production has never reached more than 85.5 million barrels per day. When the worldwide economy expands, we’ll start to see the seriously rising prices of peak oil.

    Thus, no matter what, transit usage is going to go up (as will biking, walking, and carpooling). Only Shai Agassi’s plan for swappable batteries for electric cars will keep people motoring (the internal combustion engine will become too expensive). Swappable batteries are a GREAT idea for buses. See his talk here: http://fora.tv/2009/07/22/The_Electric_Horizon_Shai_Agassi

    Now for financing: Federal, state and local government have grossly overextended themselves and are seriously in debt. The federal government is in terrible shape, with the biggest parts of the budget, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, now in the red. There is high resistance to new taxes. Even people who want desperately want more government services expect that someone else will be taxed, but eventually they’ll run out of people to loot.

    Unfortunately, figure 10 years to put up any kind of rail system (even on existing right of ways). And before you put it up, you better have a lot of demand on its route.

    Let’s assume that the Feds come through with some sort of ground level transit (light rail?) for the FEC corridor and that Tri-Rail will fade away. Running in 6-10 years. It is an enormous investment. Though probably the most logical big ticket transit investment, there simply won’t be money for other rail projects. Buses will have to suffice.

    Miami Dade ridership reports (look to the bottom right):
    http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/2000_rid_tech_reports.asp

    Miami Dade transit fuding:
    OPERATIONS: Farebox: 21.11%, State of Florida: 4.6%, Other municipalities: 0.2%, Miami Dade County: 36.7%, 1/2 penny sales tax: 27.7% , Misc (advertising, leasing, etc.): 2.1%
    CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS: Miami Dade County: 4.3%, State of Florida: 10.5%, US government: 32.6%, 1/2 penny sales tax-backed bonds 52.6%

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  5. gables resident says:

    Unfortunatley we have not done a good job of lobbying our “leaders”. I agree Gabe the Orange Line North is DEAD on arrival. Its not racial its dead on (or off) the numbers. However, a streetcar from Miami to Miami Beach would certainly receive funding. If Metro is your style than expanding the current line south to the Falls Mall or even Turnpike/ US 1 (Downtown Palmetto Bay) would be the easiest and create the next Dadeland style transit hub for south dade. How about extending the new Orange line east along 112/ 195 to Midtown Miami and west to Blue Lagoon Commerce Park creating 2 easily accessible redevelopment areas for multi-national firms to set up offices with convenient access to the airport. All fundable routes. Bicycle trails on all of our canals would be good options but little progress is being made. Unfortunately the one bike route moving forward- Ludlam Trail- forgot transit altogether; This route directly connects 2 of the largest transit hubs in Dade County (MIC/MIA and Dadeland); can you imagine an extension of the Busway to MIC connecting the entire southern half of the county?

    And while I agree with you that the HOT lanes increase capacity the reality is I drive also and they are great to get to Ft Lauderdale in a hurry. MDX will have all the money in the future adding electronic tolling on 878/ 874/ 836/ 826 this is a fat pig ready for some pork barrel projects. If we could get a slice with dedicated bus lanes or Metro Rail south on US 1 paid for by reversible toll lanes on the same right of way, I think it would be our best opportunity of expanding transit in a meningful way.

    I look forward to further articles and discussions. Thanks for adding some meaningful fruit for thought.

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  6. John says:

    Is it possible that the money gained from tolls on MDX expressways be used for transit funding? Where does that money go and what is currently used for? I’m sure that’s millions of dollars that could really help fund a lot of major transit projects.

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  7. TM READER says:

    Glad to read this post, it was clear, insightful, and objective. I look forward to this as a continued discussion series.
    I would support a changed PTP, but it may as well be a full cent for transit, and actually promise infrastructure to be controlled by MDT not municipalities.
    I think the only transit projects you’ll see in the near term are Bus Rapid Transit projects, and even those can get bogged down in politics and right of way acquisition.
    The key to transit is political will, and the current county commission has proved it does not have it.

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  8. Great Feedback readers! Keep them coming, Part 2 of this discussion will be up later this week!

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  9. M says:

    I agree with Kevin, in that we should focus on areas of Miami-Dade County that have the density or destinations to draw transit riders. If riders in those locations (South Beach, Mid-Town, Miracle Mile, FIU, Biscayne Corridor) had a viable transit option, they would use it.

    Coordination:
    I believe that transit must be a coordinated with zoning and development. For example, the Dadeland stations on Metrorail work because there are condos, offices, and shoping to draw riders. Likewise, the stations at the Health District also draw many riders. If denser, multi-use zoning were implemented around current stations, or potentially new ones, ridership would be larger and the system more sustainable.

    Involvement:
    With that said, it is up to us as citizens to educate each other and pressure elected leaders to give us what we want. When Baylink, the proposed light rail from downtown to South Beach, was first proposed 2 independent studies showed that within 5-10 years, traffic would be so bad it would have a negative impact on quality of life and business growth. Yet, our elected leaders have offered no options, and we have allowed it.

    Alternatives:
    I say we start over and find innovative thinkers to take part in transit planning and coordinate with larger development plans within the county. Since we do not have the funds for operation and maintenance, can we get corporate sponsors or a private/public partnership (such as Vancouver’s SkyTrain) to assist in transit? Can we create an independent agency, like Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to plan, build, and maintain transit? That agency has seen much success and I wonder if a similar transit oriented agency could have the same result.

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