Currently viewing the tag: "highways"

At last year’s Citizen’s Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) Transportation Summit, Maurice Ferré, former City of Miami Mayor and current Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) Chair, pointed to a map of his agency’s current and future projects and declared that it was MDX’s “dream” — yes, that’s a quote — to realize the proliferating highway vision embodied by that map.

A major feature of MDX’s so-called dream includes expanding the Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) down through the far southwest reaches of Miami-Dade County. One of the competing versions of the dream would put the newly expanded tolled highway along the Miami-Dade County urban development boundary (UDB).

SR-836-Southwest-1-Kendall-Extension-map

 

Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB) in 2013. Source: Miami Geographic / Matthew Toro. 2014.

Miami-Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB) in 2013. Source: Miami Geographic. 2014.

Tolled highways are generally great, as they create an economic disincentive to single-occupant automobile use. People often respond to the price triggers of tolled highways by turning to more affordable, more accessible public transportation (bus, train, etc.), active mobility (biking, walking, etc.), and alternative mobility (car-pooling, short-distance car-sharing (Car2Go), real-time ride-sharing (Uber, Lyft), etc.) options.

In the metropolitan context of Miami-Dade County, though, these options are either underdeveloped or are just now getting started in earnest.

The Metrorail system, for instance, serves a very limited corridor.

Metrorail System 1-Mile Network (“Along-the-Street-Network”) 2014 Land-Use Corridor. Source: Matthew Toro. Miami Geographic. 2014.

Metrorail System 1-Mile Network (“Along-the-Street-Network”) 2014 Land-Use Corridor. Source: Matthew Toro. Miami Geographic. 2014.

An extensive bus system traverses most major arterial roads moving north-south and east-west, but buses carry a stigma of being either unreliable or unpleasant, or both.

Miamians are increasingly realizing that cycling and walking to their destinations isn’t as hard as our automobile-dominated culture would have us otherwise believe. Still, we’re many years away from realizing the active mobility utopia Miami has the potential to be.

In light of this shortage of viable mobility alternatives, then, one might think that the toll revenues generated by Miami’s highway dystopia would be directed toward investment in better public transportation infrastructure and streetscape amenities (e.g., wider sidewalks, proper bike lanes, etc.).

The problem with MDX, though, is that the toll monies it collects are used for increased highway development and an unwarranted expansion of roadway jurisdiction, not for the sorts of investments that would move greater Miami away from its automobile dependence.

As one of many cases in point: MDX is actively seeking to convert the only bus route in Miami-Dade County even remotely resembling true bus rapid transit, the South Miami-Dade Busway, into a highway falling under its jurisdiction, complete with overpasses and all.

Dumping more money into highways is tantamount to our community collectively signing a 50-100-year contract of servitude to stop-and-go highway hell. And that’s not to mention all of the broader economic and environmental ramifications: subsidizing the air-choking, global warming oil and gas industries; the financial crisis-inducing, and obesity-encouraging single-family real estate sprawl sector; the deforestation-promoting rubber sector in the tropics; the list goes on.

Miamians don’t have to accept this fate, though. We don’t have to sign away our city to this chain of corporate profiteers who refuse to adapt to the innovations in transportation infrastructure and human life demanded by 21st century urbanism.

The very first “Open House: Public Kick-off Meeting” for MDX’s Southwest Highway Expansion “dream” will be held in less than two weeks. This is Miami’s first real opportunity to voice its concerns about the project’s short-, medium-, and long-term impacts.

At the risk of sounding (even more?) cynical, I dare posit that these sorts of meetings are intended primarily to fulfill certain state and federal requirements to maintain minimum transparency levels, as well as to offer just enough opportunity for public input so that any future complaints made when the real impacts of such projects are felt can be expediently dismissed with the standard bureaucratic “We offered the public the chance to speak, and no such concerns were brought up then.” By then, it’s simply too little, too late.

The point is that the time to speak is now — during this preliminary Project Development & Environment (PD&E) Study — not when this study materializes into an actionable plan and the construction crews are out there at the edge of the Everglades laying out a new highway.

Don’t let MDX’s highway dream become Miami’s prolonged highway nightmare. Be there and speak up!

 

MDX SR 836 / Dolphin Expressway Southwest Extension

Open House Public Kickoff Meeting

Thursday, September 4, 2014

6:00pm - 9:00pm

Miami Baptist Church

14955 SW 88th Street

Miami, FL 33196

It’s no secret that TransitMiami is opposed to the expansion of highways in our community.

Still, we like to understand how they work, and the applied engineering science that goes into measuring their structural performance.

Florida International University produced a fascinating video describing the work of some of its faculty and students from the Lehman Center for Transportation Research.

FIU professors and graduate students talk about their efforts to monitor MDX’s under-construction 836 (Dolphin) / 826 (Palmetto) highway interchange with specially-designed sensors measuring the shrinkage and strain on the concrete over time.

Just imagine if we invested the same kind of money and science into expanding and improving our public transportation rail network!

 

 

The decisive role of the highways in determining the fate of Overtown a half century ago is not lost upon City of Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

The southern part of Ms. Spence-Jones’ District #5 (marked in pink the map below) covers Overtown, and she’s clearly had a history lesson or two on the role of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in her historic, predominantly black, socio-economically disadvantaged, yet eager-to-reemerge district.

At last month’s May 23 Commission meeting, fellow City of Miami Commission Marc Sarnoff (District #2; marked in orange below) first brought Resolution #13-00581 to the floor.

2012CommissionDistricts_CityOfMiami

Map Source: City of Miami

As we’ve extensively noted over the past few days, Resolution #13-00581 (as originally written) would have transferred control of Brickell Avenue from FDOT to the City of Miami.

Referring to Brickell as the “Park Avenue of Miami”, Sarnoff made a compelling case for the resolution, further emphasizing the potential for better speed control and safety provisions on the financial business district’s most critical artery. He continued:

Now we have the opportunity to own Brickell. This is a very, very big piece for the City of Miami — to take ownership and control of its own Park Avenue. And I just don’t want this opportunity to slip.

On these points, TransitMiami couldn’t agree more with Sarnoff.

Critical to understand, though, is that (in its original form) Resolution #13-00581 would have required the City of Miami to give up control of a handful of important streets in the Historic Overtown / Downtown Miami District. In fact, FDOT was actually trying to take more roadway length than it was actually relinquishing.

Fortunately, FDOT’s desperate grab for Overtown’s historic streets met with a ferocious defense from Commissioner Spence-Jones, demonstrating her thorough understanding of the agency’s highway history in Overtown.

Read closely — this one’s a classic!

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

City of Miami Commissioner for District #5, Spence Jones.

Unfortunately, FDOT gets an ‘F’ for our community in Overtown.

They have been responsible for not only destroying a very prevalent African-American community, but also displacing many of them, many of the people that live there. […]

I am very uncomfortable with giving up any anything in Overtown — in any way — until they handle what they promised they’d handle. There’s things that FDOT has said that they’re going to do […]. They say one thing, and then it’s a totally different thing.

They haven’t done anything that they committed to do. So, you know, for me to give up something or allow them to take one thing over the other and not have them live up to their responsibility to the residents of Overtown — I have an issue and a concern with it.

So all I asked was for [City of Miami Assistant Manager Alice Bravo] and [City of Miami Manager Johnny Martinez] to set-up a meeting with FDOT and let’s go through all these items that the residents of Overtown have asked for that they have not complied with. […]

It’s amazing that in the midst of getting [Resolution #13-00581] negotiated, my district [District #5] was considered in it without even having a discussion with me . . . because I would have told you then, that anything that FDOT is doing in Overtown — we got issues! […]

And then, not only that; beyond that: They promised that they would not take anybody’s property. The next thing I know, they’re taking people’s property!

Then I’m hearing again — without us even having a conversation — you know, the properties that we’re building in Overtown, or trying to create in Overtown . . . now they want to take that side of 14th Street and 3rd Avenue from the businesses that we just put money into . . . so — I got issues with FDOT!

It don’t have anything to do with Brickell […]. […]

So all I’m asking is that I would like to have a meeting with FDOT to make sure that our issues get resolved. […]

If you’re talking about giving them something in OT — Yes! The District 5 Commissioner has a big issue and big problem with it. I’m not saying you can’t get [the transfer of Brickell to the City of Miami done …]

But Overtown — when it comes to I-95, roadways, highways, anything that sounds like that — it’s a problem for us in Overtown.

It destroyed a community. […]

TransitMiami has one word for Comissioner Spence-Jones: Righteous!

Resolution #13-00581 was ultimately passed (3 commissioners in favor; 0 opposed) at the most recent Commission meeting on June 13. Fortunately, though, the Resolution was amended to exclude at least parts of the streets in the Overtown / Historic Downtown Miami District. TransitMiami will follow-up with more details soon.

As for now, though, just try to bask in a bit of the glory of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones’ passionate words in defense of her district and the people of Overtown, and our community at-large. Kudos to you, Commissioner Spence-Jones!

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Multiple facets of our community are abuzz with transportation- and mobility-related talk.

We’ve got the Miami-Dade 2013 Transportation Summit scheduled for June 6 and the “Transit Talk” pre-summit summit a week in advance on May 29.

Now we’ve got yet another transportation-/mobility-related event scheduled for a week after the summit, on June 12. It seems the transportation debate in greater Miami is really heating up . . .

The Good Government Initiative (GGI) at the University of Miami is hosting a luncheon called “Can We Conquer Congestion? Mobility for 21st Century.

CanWeConquerCongestion_20130613

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

11:30am - registration | 12:00pm — lunch | 12:30pm — conversation

Northern Trust | 700 Brickell Avenue | Miami, Florida 33131

For your Average-José, there’s some good news and bad news. It’s always best to serve the bad news first:

Bad News: This is NOT a free event, which is something that would generally, under most circumstances, discourage me from posting here on TransitMiami. There’s an elaborate fee schedule for various types of groups:

  • $35 — Individual Ticket (standard/default)
  • $30 — GGI Member
  • $50 — GGI Contributor (Individual Ticket + $15 donation)
  • $500 — Sponsor Table for 10
  • $20 —  Student / Concerned Citizen

Good News: The Good Government Initiative has graciously agreed to offer readers of TransitMiami a special registration discount of $5, hence the reason it’s being posted. Thank you Good Government Initiative — sincerely!

That’s right! Just as you always hoped and knew it would, your TransitMiami readership is finally beginning to pay off! To get your crisp Abraham Lincoln knocked-off the registration price, be sure to enter the following promo code into the electronic form when registering as a “Student / Concerned Citizen” ($20): TRANSITMIAMI .

After the $5 discount, that $15 bucks will cover your lunch (hey, lunch!) and presence at the discussion. Note: the actual level of participation permitted by the public in this “discussion” is to yet to be determined/witnessed. . . . Read on for the justification of my admittedly skeptical disposition . . .

The more ambiguous news — toward which you should be correspondingly ambivalent — is that an event titled “Can We Conquer Congestion? Mobility for 21st Century” is featuring the Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), Mr. Javier Rodriguez, as one of its main speakers (?!).

Javier Rodriguez, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) Executive Director

Javier Rodriguez, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX)
Executive Director

Let’s be clear here: TransitMiami has absolutely nothing against Mr. Rodriguez on a personal level.

Professionally, though, we do take issue with the agency whose reins he controls: MDX.

One need only look through the dozens of TM posts since 2007 revealing the obsessive toll-imposing and highway-constructing machinations of MDX to know how we feel about the agency.

Around here, MDX holds the un-honorably earned reputation of being one of the main progenitors of suburban sprawl and endless highway construction. It’s these forces that underlie congestion and diminish quality of life in our community. MDX is a tenacious antagonist of true urban mobility in the Miami of the 21st century.highway_knot_01

So, please understand that our dissemination of this event comes with a healthy dose of caution and skepticism, probably even an unfortunate hint of cynicism too.

On the other hand, though, there’s also going to be representation by some organizations whose missions and and on-the-ground operations actually reflect the pursuit of our community’s well-being.

Other speakers include the likes of former Miami-Dade County Commissioner, Ms. Katy Sorenson, President and CEO of The Good Government Initiative, as well as people like Ms. Anamarie Garces de Marcilla, Executive Director of Urban Health Solutions and current chair of the Consortium for  Healthier Miami-Dade’s Health & Built Environment Committee.

[***Full disclosure: this author serves on, and is a supporter of, that volunteer committee.***]

Other anticipated speakers include Mr. Joe Giulietti, Executive Director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (the agency which manages Tri-Rail) and Mr. Mark Lesniak, Executive Director of Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association.

Trirail-Logo

So, if you have the time and the $15 bucks to spare for lunch where people will be talking about transportation and mobility, go for it! And don’t forget to tell them that TransitMiami sent you with that promo code.

Let’s just hope that after sharing all of these critical — but well-intentioned — sentiments, the kind folks from GGI still uphold their $5 discount to TransitMiami readers!  After years of your blood, sweat, and tears, TM readers, you definitely deserve it!

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Forty years since the publication of a visionary transportation planning document, the shortcomings of Miami-Dade County’s transportation reality suggest that we lost our vision somewhere along the highway, literally.

TransitMiami invites you to take brief trip through time . . .

THE PAST

The year is 1973. The Dade County Public Works Department has just released its State Transportation Programs Proposal for Dade County 1973-74.

In it, a chapter titled Mass Transit (pp. 72-98) makes declarations of a new “beginning on development of a true multi-modal transportation system in Dade County, in which “non-highway elements” are stressed to be at least part of the solution to Dade County’s burgeoning population and economy.

Indeed, there seems to be a fundamentally new consciousness — dare I say, a paradigm shift — reorienting the urban planning and public policy realms away from highways and toward mass transit.

StateTransportationProgramsProposedForDadeCounty_1973_1974

Around 1973, this is the vision the County had for University Metrorail Station. Note the dedicated busway right along US-1. Note the wide sidewalks and crosswalks. Note the number of pedestrians. Note the relative “completeness” of the streets, save for the absence of bicycle facilities, etc. Compare this with this same site (US-1 and Stanford Drive, Coral Gables) today, especially in light of recent considerations to build an elevated pedestrian bridge crossing US-1. [Courtesy of the South Florida Collection at Florida International University, Green Library.]

The beginning of that Mass Transit chapter reads:

Metropolitan Dade County and the Florida Department of Transportation in recent years have become increasingly active in planning the improvement of mass transit facilities. With less emphasis on highways alone, programming efforts have been broadened to multi-modal transportation facilities, including airports, seaports, rapid transit, terminals for truck, rail and bus companies, as well as the highway and street system that serves them and provides local traffic needs.

There’s a sense that perhaps the mid-20th century notion of highways being the transportation panacea has finally begun to lose potency. A more holistic, more enlightened view has apparently begun to gain traction, one which posits that transportation corridors and corresponding land-uses perform best when designed to serve the myriad means and purposes of mobility, as well as the urban environment’s diversity of functions.

Here are some of the major mass transit proposals from the report:

  • 53.7 miles of high-speed transit served by 54 stations,
  • bus routes operating on expressways and arterial streets,
  • feeder bus routes to complement other bus routes and rapid transit,
  • mini-systems at selected transit terminals to provide local circulation and link traffic generating areas with rapid transit.

THE PRESENT

Fast-forward 40 years into the future. The year is 2013.

FDOT and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) — and the construction, automobile, and petroleum lobbies — actively and aggressively seek to expand highways.

Tax payers are being charged $560,000,000 (that’s right: more than half a billion!) for the highway expansion mega-project at the SR 826 (Palmetto Expressway) and SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway) Interchange.

826_836_ProjectRendering_North

826_836_ProjectRendering_Southeast

Real estate developers eager to cash-in on building single-family cookie-cutter homes along the urban periphery in the west and south of the County lobby to transgress the Urban Development Boundary (UDB). Residential sprawl continues to lower the quality of life on the edges of the city.

Eager to keep its agency coffers growing, MDX writes hyperbolic reports emphasizing inflated demographic growth projections on these suburban outskirts, thereby seeking to further justify its southwestward expansion of SR 836 (Dolphin Expressway). MDX advocates for expanding tolled highways in order to generate increased revenues aimed at the perpetual expansion of highways in greater Miami.

SR-836-Southwest-1-Kendall-Extension-map

Those same city-destroying developers-of-sprawl back MDX — as do all others in the broader network of profiteers — because they perceive as far too lucrative to forego the opportunity to cash-in on pushing the boundary of Miami further into the Everglades and into our fresh water supplies.

Even on roads that have long exhausted their traditional function as “highways”, MDX pursues measures to retrofit them so as to restore their obsolete highway-performing characteristics. This is epitomized by MDX’s “US-1 Express Lanes”, whereby the agency hopes to reduce the dedicated South Dade busways to accommodate new tolled arterial travel lanes for private motorists, as well as, most notoriously, create elevated overpasses (that is, create more “HIGH-ways”).

US1_Elevated_expresslane

MDX_US1expressway_ShareFacilityPlan

FDOT, in collusion with MDX, actively seeks to expand the tolled Florida Turnpike in far south Miami-Dade County.

Meanwhile, our mere 23-station elevated heavy-rail Metrorail system traverses a very linear (and thus limited), virtually-non-networked 25 miles, including the recently added, yet long-overdue, Miami International Airport / Orange Line extension. This is literally less than half the of the 54 stations and 53.7 miles of rail network envisioned in the planning document from 40 years earlier.

Miami Transit in Perspective. Image courtesy of Leah Weston.

Miami Transit in Perspective. Image courtesy of Leah Weston.

Planned expansions to the Metrorail intended to create a true network have been scrapped due to a lack of political will to secure dedicated funding sources, along with an over-abundance of administrative incompetence and corruption.

Taken_for_a_Ride_MetrorailCorridors_MiamiHerald

Source: “Taken for a Ride”. Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/multimedia/news/transit/

After decades of false starts, broken promises, gross mismanagement of public funds, and outright political apathy, the time is now to regain the vision put forth four decades ago. The time is now to withdraw ourselves from our toxic addiction to the 20th century model of single-occupancy vehicles congested on highways. We must stop supporting those who seek to destroy our collective public spaces for personal gain through the incessant construction of highways.

The time of the highway is over. The time for “a true multi-modal transportation system in Dade County  is now.

Has Miami-Dade County lost its vision for public transit over the last 40 years? — most definitely. However, one can find solace in the fact that this is not the Miami of 1973, nor of ’83, ’93, or ’03. We are no longer the Miami of the past.

This is the Miami of 2013. This is our time. It is up to us to set forward — and bring to fruition — the vision for the Miami of 2053 . . . and beyond.

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 2010 was an ambitious year for MDX. Open road tolling really took off, and MDX had its planners busy working on ways to turn our County into an expressway wonderland, where everyone is only a block away from smooth rides; all the while, as our friends at rollbacktolls.com report, MDX ran a $2.4 billion debt through 2010. While we at Transit Miami do not think that tolls are the problem, we support others’ efforts to put MDX under a magnifying glass - after all, they act with complete impunity when it comes to planning and operating the expressway system in Miami-Dade County. And it would seem that their long-term strategy is to dismantle the few bits of premium transit we have in this region.

Take for example the plans they released in July (2010) to build a double decker expressway on top of Tri-rail, in an effort to connect all the major expressways in Miami. Insensitive to the fact that building a highway directly on top of a major regional transit system would only compete for riders, sources within MDX even admit that the likelihood of obtaining federal funding for the system is low considering the feds gave SFRTA several hundred million dollars only two years ago for Tri-Rail Upgrades. How backward can these folks be with regard to the true transportation needs of Miami-Dade County?

Now the latest assault on Miami-Dade Transit: the effort to dismantle the South-Dade Busway and create lexus lanes for the wealthy residents of Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, and Pinecrest. MDX planners are meeting with area residents to get buy-in for the project, but what they won’t tell people is that this is part of creating a parallel highway to US1 that reaches South Dade.

The irony is that the busway was conceived as low cost alternative to bring transit to the mainly underprivileged residents of South Miami-Dade County along existing train tracks built by Henry Flagler. The busway was never meant as a limited access highway for the wealthy residents of suburbs that have developed since then. Be that as it may, MDX is moving full speed ahead preparing plans to convert the bus-only transit way into an I-95 style lexus lanes expressway with elevated intersections.

What does MDT get in return for letting MDX rape its only premium transit service to the residents of South Miami-Dade County? A big fat nothing. No shared toll revenue. Faster travel speeds say MDX, but at the expense of accessible and convenient transit. On a line that already runs beyond capacity most peak times, the only transit oriented upgrade to the busway would be to make true BRT improvements, increase frequencies and headway, and eventually to extend the metro-rail south; what they should not take apart a thriving transit service. 

It’s time for a change in transportation planning in Dade County. We cannot allow MDX to continue to expand highway capacity at a time when most Miami-Dade residents are clamoring for expanded transportation options that will help them out of their cars.  The myopic car-centric decision making at MDX will only continue to degrade transit service until one authority is made responsible for uniting the managerial know-how and Right-of-Way MDX posses with MDT’s transit mandate. Until then, it is open season for MDX, and the drive to expand roadway capacity will continue at the expense of transit ridership.

Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner working on the California high speed rail project, wrote a very good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the lack of transit funds in the current form of the economic stimulus. Check it out—it sounds like something we would say here. We definitely agree that there is not enough funding for transit in the economic stimulus bill. I would take it a step further and point out that there is not enough infrastructure funding in the stimulus bill, period. Infrastructure investment pays off in the long term, while offering jobs in the short term. Of course, between highways and transit, transit spending creates more jobs in both the short term and the long term, besides further stimulating the economy.

Many different figures have been floated as to how many jobs are created per dollar spent on infrastructure. Depending on which source you look at, you might see that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 18,000 or 28,000 or some other high number of jobs are created. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the point is it’s high. Yet only about $30 billion of the $900 billion package is being directed at roads, with transit and inter-city rail getting $12 billion. Some of the other money is being directed to places that will do very little to create jobs.

The New York Times points out some of the latest additions to the bill, which include tax credits for home buyers and car buyers. I hate to say it, but this only attempts to feed our way of life for the past 50 or so years. The message it sends is, buy more homes in the suburbs to contribute to suburban sprawl, and buy a new car to drive on all those new lanes that are getting added to our highways. Don’t bother changing commuting habits or moving into the city, there was nothing wrong with our lifestyles that caused the economy to collapse or anything. (Oh, yeah. We bailed out the car industry so now we have to protect our investment. Same goes for the mortgage companies. Bleah.)

That’s totally the wrong message. Our representatives need to take advantage of the opportunity to encourage sustainable development by directing the funds to the places that will make a difference. Among those places are mass transit and high speed rail. If we don’t learn from our mistakes of spending unwisely in the past, we’re doomed to repeat them.

Despite widespread opposition, our state legislators are moving forward with a plan that would privatize alligator alley for the next 75 years.  The state would “reap” the short term benefits of privatization, gaining about a billion dollars in these “tough economic times” with which to infuse money into our fledgling roadway/transit infrastructure (with a heavy emphasis on roadways…) The Transportation budgetary shortfalls, a national problem as well, is the result of an antiquated, unsustainable gas tax, which has taken a serious hit with the recent hikes in gas prices (combined with the highly subsidized nature all roadways demand.)

The potential lease of Alligator Alley is part of a larger trend toward privatizing major infrastructure assets in the United States.

The federal highway trust fund, which pays for roads, bridge repairs and mass transit, is running multi-billion dollar deficits and on the verge of bankruptcy.

The orgy of Congressional earmarking politics has drained billions from needed construction and maintenance jobs toward lesser priority pork.

Gas taxes haven’t kept pace with inflation. Nobody in Washington was willing to raise taxes when gas was $1.50 or $2 a gallon; they certainly won’t do it when prices are closer to $4.

But $4 a gallon gas has actually accelerated the funding issues. People are driving less. Less gas consumption equals less money for highway construction and mass transit.

”Our approach to funding transportation is broken,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said during a recent visit to South Florida. “It is time for a better approach.”

The privatization of a profitable roadway in Florida is worrisome and extremely short sided.  Even more troubling perhaps, is the way in which our government has gone about this privatization plan – holding interest group meetings in places as far away as Orlando.  As a planner, I too have had professional difficulties establishing the role of public input when it comes to policy issues, but what can be said when our policymakers not only defy the voice of the overwhelming majority but go so far as to complicate the public involvement process?  Could this perhaps be the work of a governor who is trying to make a name for himself on a more national stage?

FDOT will be hosting focus groups on the privatization plan on September 16th and 17th at the Hyatt Bonaventure, 250 Racquet Club Rd., Weston.

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Image: John Darkow, The Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

With gas tax revenue falling fast the federal government fears that it may not be able to meet its commitment to states for road projects currently under way. So what does Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters suggest? Simply “borrow” money from the mass transit fund. According to the New York Times article, such a measure would “balance the accounts as highway travel declines and mass transit increases.”

However, such a transfer of money would require Congress’ approval.

American Public Transportation Association president, William W. Millar added this:

The administration proposal is shortsighted and would mean that the mass transit account would be reduced to the point where there would not be enough money to fund the federal transit program in 2010, even at the current level.

If this doesn’t illustrate how broken our federal transportation funding system is, I don’t know what does. Despite runaway gas prices, climate change, and the prospect of funding petro-dictators, the Bush administration is still desperate to fund highways at a significantly greater clip than transit. The sad thing is that the Bush admin wants to borrow from what is already a scant fund. The transit fund is but a tiny fraction of the highway fund.

A couple of recent articles have brought attention to freight rail. Palm Beach Post’s Cone Zone posted that CSX now has a carbon calculator on its website to show just how much more environmentally friendly trains are than trucks. The Wall Street Journal also published an article today that mentions the environmental issue, but actually heralds the beginning of a “new era” of railroad expansion.

What? You mean trucks haven’t killed the railroad? Did someone tell Miami yet?

It’s impressive. Basically, rail went through an expansion boom in the late 1800s that ended in the mid 1900s with the construction of the interstate. Now, the interstates are crowded and dangerous, and diesel and other emissions are killing the environment; and the trucking dream is no longer looking so good. With skyrocketing gas prices, railroad companies are able to compete more easily with less fuel efficient trucking companies, and they have been expanding their rail systems in the past few years. In an interactive map, WSJ points to several ongoing improvement and expansion projects that are modernizing the nation’s freight rail system. Railroad companies are actually touting some of the same things that we do about passenger systems: rail expansion is an environmentally friendly alternative to expanding highways.

Perhaps we need to work together with the rail freight companies to persuade voters and politicians that rail is a better way. Meanwhile, we can sit back and see whether rail will compete with the Port of Miami tunnel after it opens.
Photo by Flickr user SP8254.

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Art Deco, taking many cues from fascist architecture and graphic design, who in turn was referencing early Roman design.

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As planners, advocates, and community groups, we can condemn poor localized planning to our heart’s content. Heck, we may even win a few battles now and again. However, if we want to win the war, we must carefully examine how federal policy affects transportation and planning.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at the Federal Department of Transportation’s budget for project funding in Fiscal Year 2008. Using completely backward, archaic philosophies, DOT has set aside $42,000,000,000 for highway projects, and a trifling $1,400,000,000 for transit projects. That’s right - $42 billion for highways and $1.4 billion for transit. We can certainly see where DOT’s priorities still lie.

How on earth are we supposed to improve inner city and regional transit, with the feds only dolling out $1.4 billion for transit projects? How are cities supposed to improve sustainability, reduce congestion, and improve mobility? Plus, when you consider all the money going towards highway building/expansion, it makes it even more difficult for transit systems to compete.

“There’s still a lack of understanding how fundamentally broken the transit program is. The demand for transit has never been higher…at the same time, the federal government substantially underfunds transit, so it’s very competitive to get those funds”, says Brookings Institution fellow Robert Puentes.

The Washington Post elaborates:

Unlike federal highway funds, which states receive based on a formula and may spend as they wish, money for new transit projects is awarded at the discretion of the FTA. The agency doesn’t have much to dole out. The FTA has proposed spending about $1.4 billion on new transit projects next fiscal year, compared with $42 billion that states will receive for highway maintenance and construction, according to federal figures. More than 100 transit projects across the country are expected to compete for federal money in coming years, according to a federal report.

In deciding which projects deserve funds, FTA officials consider primarily which would attract enough riders and save them enough time to be worth the investment. They also consider the state and local governments’ ability to help pay for construction, maintenance and operating costs. Other considerations include impact on air quality, development around stations and the ability to move lower-income workers to jobs.

FTA evaluations can take years, because it rates a project — and grants permission for it to move forward — at several different points, controlling it from preliminary engineering through construction.

So there you have it. This is what Miami is up against; this is what America is up against. It goes to show that our federal government is not serious whatsoever about curbing driving demand, pursuing sustainability, or fighting climate change. Until this gross discrepancy is corrected, we cannot expect any appreciable improvement in transit, traffic congestion, or the quality of our urban environments.

How do we fix this? It comes down to politics. We need to help elevate smart growth to the forefront of political issues for subsequent election campaigns. These planning issues are so important, so critical to millions of people, it’s unfathomable that they have not commanded more press time. I mean, after all, smart growth lumps together so many classic issues like the environment, energy, oil (gas prices), climate change, health care, and poverty. The trick will be finding a way to consolidate these issues, which will require a unified effort by leaders of each sub-issue.

Sooner or later it will happen, so let’s do what we can to make it sooner.

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