In 1997, Miami-Dade County opened an 8-mile long busway, starting at Dadeland South, where the Metrorail terminates, and running south. After two extensions, the busway now runs nearly 20-miles to SW 344th Street in Florida City. The project speeds buses and emergency vehicles along, saving lives, commute time and fuel.
Despite careful planning, the population has outpaced all expectations. So, in May 2011, the Miami‐Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), in coordination with Miami‐Dade Transit (MDT) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) started a study to see how improve our transit corridor. The study is looking at items such as traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, being green and aesthetics and is trying to re-use the 100-foot wide busway in the best possible way.
So far, the study has spun out a few early proposals that have polarized many and angered a few. The one most opposed is a toll road that would be raised and require on and off-ramps.
On the evening of November 14th, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner held a community meeting at Pinecrest Gardens. “I want to start a dialogue,” Lerner said. “The general public is completely unaware of what’s being prepared.”
Before the meeting started, MDX representatives displayed charts and graphs outlining potential changes to the busway and handled questions that ranged from concerns about a toll road proposal that would potentially put more cars onto US-1 to having new roads take away even more greenery from the area.
Mayor Lerner started the formal meeting in front of around 250 concerned residents stating, "We are here to learn more and to become engaged with the process. There's lots more to learn and opportunity to have a voice." In attendance were politicians and officials from several surrounding communities, including Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay.
For the next 50 minutes, moderator Katy Sorenson (President and CEO of The Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami and former County Commissioner) allowed speeches and presentations from MDX's Alan Brick-Turin (external consultant from Gannet Fleming), homeowners association's Holly White and University of Miami's Andrew Giorgiani (trends expert). Each provided their background, perspective on goals and thoughts on what might be best for the forthcoming project.
What came to light is that this study is not a knee-jerk reaction, nor is it simply a way to spend money and collect tolls. Instead, this is a process that will run through 2015 that asks how transportation should be augmented to best suit the needs of South Dade county's current and future needs. They will accept input from many groups and perspectives before any project is undertaken.
The study already shows the problem in detailed form. Between 2010 and 2035, there will be an 83% increase in population of the area. Employment will increase by 45%. Yet, there is only a projected 7% increase in the transporation system. In short, things will grind to a halt without a new plan to improve transporation.
Andrew Giorgiani provided some interesting history which showed that it was Henry Flagler who used the high ridge of Florida to run the railway. The busway was part of Flagler's plan as well. Our towns and cities organically grew in pods around that transportation corridor.
After the presentations, you could feel people relaxing as information rather than heresay was digested. There was no longer a 'monster' in the room.
Fact: Any approved plan must allow for future Metrorail extension within the same physical space now used by the busway.
Fact: Any approved plan would not replace the managed busway lanes. Any tolls collected would pay for upgrades to the busway.
Fact: The MDX is aware of concerns about urban blight and that people do not want to feel as if the toll road would become a "wall" between communities.
Fact: The project is likely to mimic the I-95 pay model of changing fees based on time of day and usage.
As to the concern that people would abandon public transportation and use a toll road with less traffic, the study shows that is very unlikely. The biggest sigh of relief (yes, it was audible) of the evening came when an audience member asked them to address the notion that this raised toll road would feel like an up and down rollercoaster and tie up the local streets. The response was that this project would involved tons of community input and they would avoid the pitfalls of 'too much cement' at all costs, siding instead for a project that actually promoted pedestrian transporation.
For more information on this project, please visit: http://www.mdx-way.com/projects/future_projects