Lets start by saying kudos to newly elected Commissioner Xavier Suarez for discussing the need for adequate transit in the county. Nothing like new blood to reinvigorate the discussion. Because of his push for new service on the FEC line along Biscayne, Commissoin Chairman Joe Martinez brought up a pet project of his own that he has conitinually tried to push over the past decade. While I’m happy that rail transit has joined the discussion, lets take an initial critical look at the plans being proposed and weigh them against the transit needs of Miami-Dade County residents.
Both projects use existing freight rail infrastructure with different technologies aimed at different types of transit usage. Overall, we are happy that the conversation is taking place; however, the ill conceived nature of the projects and the lack of coordination and vision points to the need for a holistic transit strategy – something we have been saying for some time.
Commissioner Suarez is looking at the FEC line that runs parallel to Biscayne for some form of rubber-tire ‘dual mode electric vehicles’ for local service.
As you might imagine, we here at Transit Miami think this is a big joke. While we applaud the rookie/veteran commissioner, we really urge him to support the current efforts to install transit service on the FEC via the SFECC study. This Tri-County study, has laid out several alternatives for transit service, and is pretty far along in the process. Transit Miami supports the urban-local alternative, which combines regional service (ala Tri-Rail) along with local light rail or MetroRail service. The rubber tire ‘dual mode’ transit idea is as hair brained as they come. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here, folks. The FEC goes through or adjacent to most of our urbanized areas. No need to be gimicky here – just provide run of the mill fixed-premium transit service and people will ride!
As for Commissioner Martinez’ plan to connect points south to the Tri-Rail Airport station (once it reopens) along a CSX ROW, this might be a good idea, but as with all plans, the devil is in the details. Do we really need to provide expensive transit service to some of the least dense and suburban locations in Miami-Dade County? I’m not sure. Extending Tri-Rail’s regional connectivity south is a good thing, but I’m not sure in this era of constrained municipal budgets that this project is more worthy than the FEC line, or other urban rail extensions like the Douglas Road MetroRail or Baylink. The pricetag to upgrade the line in 2006 dollars is $300 million, relative chump change compared to other transit project (or any road project), so that is not as much a concern to us as the cost to maintain the system. With yearly budget battles for scarce transit dollars, we need to be sure we build lines that we can afford to pay for – going to MetroZoo and points south may be a great idea in the long run, but as Commissioner Martinez said, “What is wrong with our mass transit system? It doesn’t loop and it doesn’t connect.” Will this line actually change that? Not really. (Not to mention that this ‘transit’ project is really about giving CSX an easier – and cheaper- freight connection out west on sensitive wetlands.)
Lets continue to develop our urban rail network before making targeted investments in extensions to important points south and north and west. As with the MetroRail Orange Line along NW 27 Avenue, simply extending transit to the outer reaches of the county will not guarantee ridership – and will further induce suburban sprawl in areas to the far west and south. A better start would be to use the Ludlam trail from Dadeland Station to the Airport for light rail service (not bus). That would finally create a complete loop around Miami-Dade County, and set the stage for expansions to the suburban reaches of the county.
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