Currently viewing the tag: "North Corridor"

Miami-Dade Transit will be taking comments on their annual recently released their Transit Development Plan 2011 update. You can find the document here. The Transit Development Plan is required by State Law to, “present the operational and capital improvement needs of Miami-Dade Transit (MDT) and also serve as a planning tool to project future MDT needs for the implementation and operation of transit service.”

The Transit Development Plan is an important planning tool as it provides a complete picture of funding sources, revenues, and expenses (on the operations side), while also describing the existing transit network, demographics and planned service changes. It is the closest document we have to a ‘People’s Transportation Plan’.

In the years following the demise of the Orange Line MetroRail extension, the TDP has been focused on reducing the operating budget and squeezing efficiency from the existing system, while not really providing a clear framework for increases in ridership. The October 2009 update described its budgetary strategy as, “an avoidance of any major service expansion except for the MIC-Earlington Heights Metrorail connector service.”

Two years later, the TDP doesn’t paint a rosier picture for premium service expansions; none are envisioned in the near term.  But what the document does reveal is a department that is trying to do more with its existing infrastructure, both through increased efficiencies in the network and improved passenger amenities.

Several new ‘enhanced’ bus routes are also discussed, including the North Corridor Enhanced Bus project, and the SR 836 Express Bus Project. We’ll talk more about those later. What we can say now is that the service expansions envisioned by this latest TDP are very modest – and incremental – improvements to service around the county as an alternative to the ambitious and extensive PTP.

Aside from some new routes, MDT has been working on implementing improved passenger amenities, such as real-time bus tracking and WiFi access. MDT began rolling it its popular  Wi-Fi service in 2010, and currently provides service in all Metro-Rail trains, and approximately 20% of the bus fleet. The coming year will see the program expanded to the entire fleet of MetroBuses and all station platform areas. Future service expansions, such as the NW 27 Enhanced route, will also come equipped with Wi-Fi as a standard feature.

MDT is also moving forward with implementing a new AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location)  software system that will replace the current system (which dates from the late 90’s). The new system will provide for real-time tracking, and transit signal prioritization – elements that should help MDT make modest ridership gains using existing infrastructure. The real-time tracking will allow full integration with smart phones, and will also be a standard feature in future service expansions. This improvement will finally give the South Dade Busway the signal priority it was designed for, and shorten commute times along this heavily used transit corridor. MDT plans to issue an RFP for the system this year, with a launch scheduled for mid-2012.

Kudos to MDT for advancing these needed technological improvements - they will pay for themselves and then some. One need only look at the EasyCard system and Automatic Passenger Counters (APCs), implemented in 2009, which MDT has been using its to make targeted improvements to service schedules. The efficiencies created by using this data (adjusting/eliminating empty routes) has allowed MDT planners to use infrastructure more wisely.

This year’s TDP includes numerous service changes that involve adjusting routes using the APC data, along with staff recommendations, according to MDT Planner Maria Battista. Among the data used to make service changes, Battista said, “administrators have held monthly meetings with the drivers and superintendents that let us know what is going on in their routes.” The adjustments in service respond to the current ridership demands. Some routes are being reduced by 15-20 minutes at non-peak hours (prior to the morning rush, or during evening hours) based on data that showed no usage during these times. These surgical adjustments will help ensuring that MDT facilities are being used when and where they are needed most.

The TDP 2011 shows an agency working with what it has. No premium service expansions, but important improvements to existing service. This all comes against the backdrop of an agency - it would seem by the media- in disarray. No Director, serious FTA funding problems, a lackluster commission directive, and a newly installed Mayor whose commitment to transit involves converting a transit corridor into a highway. The changes proposed by the TDP 2011 set the stage for premium expansions sometime in the future. The incremental ramp-up of ridership in new enhanced bus routes, along with the improved passenger amenities, and GPS tracking abilities will allow our elected officials to take hold of the agency and provide the premium service expansion that this community demanded almost a decade ago.

Suggestions and comments on the annual TDP update can be sent to BPB@miamidade.gov.

If the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is forced to cut trains, the authority — and even the state, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — could face a $275 million lawsuit by the Federal Transit Administration, Tri-Rail officials fear.

Only in Miami/South Florida does a transit agency face a lawsuit from the Federal Transit Administration for reduced local funding for transit.  How do we think this decision will affect Miami-Dade’s attempts to secure funding for the north corridor?  Let’s ask “Pepe” Diaz what he thinks:

“If we’re cutting routes locally,” [“Pepe” Diaz] said, “where are going to get the funding for Tri-Rail?”

That’s the spirit, justify the Tri-Rail cuts with our own local stumbles.

Follow this link to send emails to our local senators in support of Tri-Rail…

In case you’ve spent the past couple of days living in a cave (or more likely, not paying attention to local transit news) there is trouble brewing on the horizon (by horizon I clearly mean this week) over at MDT. I know we haven’t touched up on MDT in a while, but we’re long overdue for some updates.

Last week, the FTA dealt a serious blow to the next major phase of metrorail expansion, the north corridor, by downgrading the once favorable rating of the project. The new Medium-low status doesn’t quite kill the project yet, but it places some serious funding hurdles in the way, which, if overcome, will set the project back by 6 months to a year (in MDT terms: we’re realistically looking at a 2+ year delay if funding is eventually secured.) Not all hope is lost yet on the nearly 10 mile long corridor; the FTA is choosing to downgrade the status of the project because of the “county’s long-range financial forecasting” rather than ridership projections or cost benefits of the corridor itself. The FTA seems to be in favor of the project but is rather questioning the ability and leadership of MDT.

If you read the Herald yesterday, you probably saw this article. It’s not so hard to believe given the bizarre political culture of Miami-Dade, but the proposed North Corridor extension of the Metrorail may be in trouble.

Apparently, the administration of Miami-Dade College North Campus has been working with county transit planners for the last three years to bring not only a station on campus, but a gym/wellness center, a 2000-space parking garage, a conference center, classrooms, and a bookstore. However, all of this would have forced a $26 million relocation of the US Army Reserve Armory at NW 27th Ave and NW 119th St, which the county cannot afford. Furthermore, it appears that these expenses were never even taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement given to Washington, which means any federal aid allocated to the county for the North Corridor would not include these MDC expenses. From the Lebowitz’s Streetwise column:

And here’s where it gets really strange. All of the letter-writing traffic is one-way, with Vicente (of MDT) memorializing his understanding of what agreements were reached in these meetings.

Nobody from Transit ever responded — even though the agency clearly couldn’t afford to make these ludicrous promises to the college and hope to compete against dozens of other U.S. cities for $700 million to $825 million in matching federal funds for the North Corridor.

Transit’s files are curiously thin on the issue. And three key players from Transit’s side of the talks are no longer with the agency. One retired last year. Bradley was fired in March and one of his top aides a few weeks later.

Yet, records show that Transit was already warning federal regulators in early 2006 that it might not be able to afford the armory relocation, forcing the agency to consider the station closer to the MDC-North main gate.

Why Transit couldn’t brace Vicente with the same candor about the armory site in early ’06 remains a mystery. And someone definitely should have told him, in writing, that the agency couldn’t build that massive conference center-garage without endangering the federal funding.

This is upsetting for several reasons. First, this was supposed to be the next expansion of Metrorail, before the East-West extension or anything in Kendall. MDT is this close to receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to help finance the expensive project. Keep in mind, the transit market is extremely competitive nationwide as cities everywhere are scrambling to make up for lost time and do the right thing by improving their public transportation systems. At the same time, federal funds are shamefully low, which means Miami-Dade is very fortunate to be in the its current position. As Lebowitz says in his column, redrawing the route or ceding to MDC’s demands is totally infeasible right now because of high costs, wasted time, and the potential for jeopardizing federal aid.

It’s also upsetting because the whole thing is just so juvenile. This is the kind of thing that just cannot happen at this level of government, especially when dealing with billion dollar capital projects and $800 million subsidies, not to mention the future of Miami-Dade County.

I opted to skip out on writing on last week’s revelation on the progress of the north corridor thinking that I’d have enough time this week to cover the story; little did I know that my week would quickly become so complicated, but I’ve finally found some time to address the issue.

MDT has gained federal approval to begin land acquisition for the next branch of the metrorail line. No, I’m not talking about the much needed east-west extension, but the north extension, rising along 27th avenue from the current Northside station to Dolphin stadium adjacent to the county line. Despite the fact that the east-west corridor was originally planned in the 1980’s, the north corridor has somehow taken precedent over the more vital link. The seven proposed stations along the $1.3 Billion, 9.5 miles North line include: a second ridiculously close northside station, MDC North Campus, Opa Locka (just out of reach of the airport), 163 St and the Palmetto, 183 St and Miami Gardens Drive, Dolphin Stadium, and Calder Race Course at County line.

I am obviously disturbed that the North extension is proceeding before the even more crucial east-west corridor is constructed. What irks me most is that MDT is spending millions of PTP money to construct yet another N-S rail link, even though the line would essentially parallel the existing Tri-Rail route. At the same time, the SFECC is working to provide a third N-S rail link, funded by the FDOT, along the FEC corridor, while the USDOT is working on a plan to add managed lanes to I-95, despite a multi million dollar unused FDOT project which sought to add a controversial yet proven Ramp Metering system. Seems unreasonable? I think so, especially when it becomes apparent that our layers of government are effectively working against each other to solve a common problem.

I hate to see things in such a grim manner, but I can’t foresee the north corridor garnering enough riders to justify its’ construction. With competing government entities working to improve existing rail and road routes, the north corridor is seemingly becoming the next white elephant of the metrorail system. On the plus side, it will connect Dolphin stadium with a direct transit source which should garner us at least 7 weekends of extensive use (twice that when UM finally heads North too.) Aside from the northern 2 stations, however, the southern five are awkwardly placed at best, running across mainly industrial and single family home neighborhoods; areas generally not geared to handle the addition of such a major transit line.

My main concern is the $800 Million we’re working to receive from the US government. Considering this is the first project to be partially funded by the PTP, we need to construct a line that will generate the ridership and daily passenger use which will help us to further guarantee more federal subsides for our remaining metrorail lines. A failure so early into the PTP could effectively jeopardize federal funding for the east-west corridor, Baylink, or any other major transit route in the county. And, with so many other cities vying for the same funds while planning considerably cheaper projects using LRT or streetcars, the cost benefit ratio for such a large project will be hard to justify…

Update: Speaking of funding issues

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