BIG Move Forward for South Dade Transit

With many of our bedroom communities now burgeoning with traffic, we all are looking for the answer to getting our streets back. Well, that long strip of asphalt that we used to call the South Miami-Dade Busway may just be the answer.

On June 7th, 2016, led by County Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava, Dennis C. Moss and Xavier L. Suarez, the busway was officially renamed as the South Dade Transitway.  It was not just a ceremonial move, but rather a growing drumbeat that signaled that the war on traffic was heating up.

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava explains, “We are on track to identify the best ‘premium transit’ option for the South Dade Transitway by end of 2017 with recommendations for funding sources.” And while nothing is official, the currently identified ‘premium transit’ option is to extend Metrorail from Dadeland to Florida City with an interesting twist… it will be extended at ground level (at grade).

Pinecrest Mayor Joe Corradino exclaimed, “I am all for this! Our roadway network is out of capacity now. We need to move to mass transit. At present, we have a rather healthy 15-thousand daily riders of the buses. I (the Corradino Group) recently conducted a study for the Metropolitan Planning Organization where we projected that adding parking lots and a light rail system where the buses now run would yield a near immediate 200% increase in ridership (to 45k/day). Further, the technology of a rail system would allow the County to easily grow capacity far beyond that.”

The fly in the ointment of new mass transit is always finances. Bringing the rail system to the ground would lower cost significantly. However, it’s not as easy as just placing steel into the existing roadway. The cars are far too heavy. So engineering costs must be calculated for how to securely lay track and also to provide a safe power source alternative to the ‘third rail’ that now powers Metrorail.

Thankfully, there seems to be some precedent set that we can follow to connect the 22-miles between Dadeland and Florida City. An elevated to at-grade transitioning light rail system is already successfully operating in Milan, Italy...built by Hitachi.

In October of 2016, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn and Palmetto Bay Partnership Chairman Peter England toured the Hitachi Rail USA plant in Medley, FL where they met CEO Giampaolo Nuonno and Project Manager Attilio Mirijello. It is here, at Hitachi’s first USA plant, that 136 new cars are being built for Miami-Dade County to replace the existing Metrorail fleet. What has changed recently from the original order is a new requirement to retrofit some of the Metrorail cars with electric pantographs (antennas) to power them from overhead wires when they are at ground level. This essentially means that this is not a whole new transportation system, but rather a hybrid extension of Metrorail at a significantly reduced price.

“I was floored at this plan because this will change the economic development of this entire area. It will also have a profound impact on our roadways,” explained Peter England. “This is a good shock and appears to be a viable solution to our growing mass transit needs.”

Eugene Flinn reflected, “We are working to change habits and move our area into the 21st century, making a community both less reliant upon their personal vehicle and reducing the impact of personal vehicles throughout our Village. Extending Metrorail will provide a one-seat ride to South Miami, Coral Gables, Brickell, Downtown, the civic center and our hospitals, capturing many commuters before the get into their cars and cut through Palmetto Bay streets.” Flinn went on to say, “Palmetto Bay wants to develop a true Transit Oriented Development in its downtown district.  The residential draw for this area will be attractive for those such as seniors or millennials who do not want to drive or even own a car; providing them the ability to get to work, dine, shop or experience entertainment anywhere along the US-1 corridor, car-free.  Many families could even get down to a single car, conveniently dropping off a family member down south, rather than driving them all the way to Dadeland.”

Expanding Metrorail would bring 14 new street-level stops between the existing Dadeland South station and the end of the line at Southwest 344th Street in Florida City. The locations are at SW 104 St, 136 St, 152 St, 160 St, 168 St, 184 St, Marlin Road, SW 200 St, SW 112 Ave, SW 244 St, 289 St, 312 St, NE 2nd Drive and SW 344th Street.