Meet the Douglas Road Corridor MetroRail Line.This 4.5 mile project would connect the MIC to Douglas Road Station and US1, with stops at NW 7 Street, SW 8 Street, and Coral Way. The line would service areas, like downtown Coral Gables, where land use already supports a high level of pedestrian activity. This should be a high priority for our leaders, and some are very supportive. Check out the 5 and ten minute walk sheds - this line would run through some of the densest parts of Miami and Coral Gables - pluggining thousands of residents who have already chosen apartment living into the ultimate urban amenity - rapid transit. (Not to mention creating another connection to the airport for those traveling to/from points south.)
The recently released Miami-Dade Transit Development Plan 2011 Update, (along with the October 2010 MPO Near Term Plan) lays out a vision for the next few years of transit service and expansion. Unfortunately, this year’s TDP (like many before it) still maintains a freeze on premium service expansion (generally described by mode as Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail, or Heavy Rail).
This year’s TDP is specific on the ‘Plan B’ for the Orange Line and other parts of the People’s Transportation Plan that never materialized. The projects are described as ‘enhanced bus service’, which for now doesn’t mean very much. The Near Term Plan described the ultimated goal as Bus Rapid Transit, but more on that later.
Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange Line will now become two separate projects. The Orange Line Phase 2 is now the NW 27 Avenue Max, a 13 mile enhanced bus service, to be implemented in two phases, and Orange Line Phase 3 is now the SR 836 Enhanced Bus. The SR836 Bus will be implemented in collaboration with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (more on this project later).
The two phase approach for the NW 27 Avenue Max is a pragmatic solution to the transit needs of the area that enhances ridership and sets the stage for more intense transit later on. Phase one will use 5 new 40′ diesel-electric hybrid buses, with transit signal priority, on-board wi-fi , real time tracking information, and 12 minute peak/ 30 minute mid-day headways. This phase is fully funded and scheduled to be online in 2012.
Phase 2 will improve headways to 10 min peak/20 min mid-day by using 11 new 60‘articulated diesel-electric buses, ‘robust’ stations, and branding of buses and stations. The current plan shows a 5 year horizon (2016) and $27 million dollar price-tag, of which $5 million is currently unfunded. This incremental investment in the corridor as it builds ridership is a responsible use of transit dollars, allowing infill development (and increased densities) to take root at important nodes to help ensure a successful route. Many critics of the MetroRail Orange Line North Corridor cited low population densities and poor land use along the corridor as reasons why MetroRail was an inappropriate facility choice for this location. The current proposal seeks measurable, yet incremental growth in ridership along the corridor at a modest expense.
According to the 2012-2015 MPO Near Term Transportation Plan, NW 27 Avenue is currently served by 2 bus routes.
At 9,500 average daily riders Route 27 is the fourth heaviest utilized route in the system. Route 97 performs well within the MAX and the KAT services, as well, at 1,300 boardings. Ridership in this corridor is surpassed by Miami Beach, Flagler, Biscayne, the South Dade Busway and NW 7th Avenue.
Comparatively, the MetroRail ridership projection was 19,000 initial daily rides (about double the current bus ridership) at a yearly expense of $70 million dollars (the Route 27 and 97 combined cost $8.1 million a year). In the case of the Orange Line, and indeed our entire mass transit network, the spending strategy should not be to stretch expensive premium transit facilities to every corner of the county, but to focus investments in those locations where the surrounding land use already supports transit ready development (also known as transit oriented development) AND where those investments will create a complete transit network.
While there are other better candidates for MetroRail funding (like Baylink or Douglas Road), NW 27 Avenue is still a worthy candidate for premium transit investment, as the Near Term Plan points out, few other lines are as utilized. The North Corridor did not happen because of bad land use patterns, but because Miami-Dade Transit has been chronically underfunded by county administrators.
The FTA New Start rankings showed that MDT had a committed source of revenue for the project, receiving a ‘High’ ranking for ‘Committed funds’ (FDOT and PTP dollars), but the overall MDT operating budget (funded by the County Commission) showed a ongoing deficit (in years 2004-2006), thus garnering a ‘low’ ranking for ‘Agency Operational Condition.’ The final nail in the coffin was a ‘low’ ranking in the ‘Operating Cost Estimates and Planning Assumptions’ category because, according to a November 2007 report, “Assumptions on the growth in fare revenues are optimistic compared to historic trends. The financial plan assumes significant, frequent fare increases. In addition, it assumes significant fare revenue increases resulting from installation of automated fare collection systems which reduce fare evasion.”
In spite of the tumultuous history of this project, the Near Term Plan concludes that,
Although the County has decided to officially withdraw from the FTA New Starts Process, the County continues to work on the NW 27th Avenue Corridor. It has chosen to improve service incrementally until such time that the construction of heavy rail in the corridor is deemed feasible.
While it might not have seemed a good business deal to county leaders, this was a project in the PTP, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters - and is exactly what the surtax money was to be used for. Not to mention that transit infrastructure is an investment in our city that can result in clear increases in tax revenue and land value when coordinated with dense, pedestrian-oriented urban fabric and employment centers.
With the anticipated service improvements along NW 27 Avenue, it would seem that MDT’s current service expansion strategy continues to be one of small scale improvements that bide the time waiting for leaders to deliver on premium transit.
An expensive, unnecessary planned project: widening 157 Avenue from two to four lanes (with raised median) from SW 152nd St. to SW 184th St.
This lane-doubling project is an ill-advised use of a further $11 million of CITT funds. Benefits claimed for this project, like the provision of north-south connectivity, are already available now, with no investment at all. Traffic moves without congestion the whole day, including during morning and afternoon rush hours, as can be verified by site visits. This project is in the 5-year plan presented for CITT approval today. The CITT should amend the plan to remove this project.
The Public Works Department [PWD] plans to conclude contracts this year for utility relocation and for construction. The CITT memo accompanying the 5-year plan recommends for this project, “that traffic studies be updated prior to immediate commencement of construction.” This is not a promising step. It sounds like the decision is already made and the traffic study is window dressing for starting as soon as possible. In reality, the 2006 traffic study specifically indicated comfortable traffic levels far below capacity, but that did not deter Public Works, the County Administration, and Commissioner Moss from advocating this expensive road expansion. None of the official presentations of this project to the CITT communicated that the whole west side of this road segment is agricultural land outside the Urban Development Boundary [UDB]. This bordering on the UDB makes this segment different from the already improved segments of SW 157th Ave. to the north, which pass through populated areas on both sides of the road. By omitting this information on the UDB, the presentations withhold information needed for an intelligent decision by the CITT.
It defies common sense to change now to a super road whose usefulness will depend on moving the UDB further west, a development which this project clearly advances. Miami-Dade, and especially the far southwest of the county, do not need more unfinished and unsold housing. If, sometime in the future, the UDB in this area is moved and intensive outlying development is planned, then the County already owns the land for the widening to four lanes. Also, the County could then negotiate with developers for their contribution to the cost of doubling the lanes.
Traffic counts, valid benefit/cost analysis using a social discount rate, common sense, and site visits all support not going ahead with this project at this time.
Here is a further word on site visits. In 2003, the first year of the CITT, member Lt. Col. Antonio Colmenares visited proposed project sites. In District 13, he found a road widening proposal that seemed unneeded. Commissioner Natacha Sejas, who had included the project in the People’s Transportation Plan [PTP], agreed it was a mistake. She proposed amending the PTP to remove the project, an action which was approved by the CITT at one of its first meetings.
Current CITT members and staff would benefit from visiting this project site on SW 157th Ave.
So far, no one has taken up my offer to drive anyone there at the peak morning or afternoon rush hours. Perhaps members and staff have visited there on their own and will reflect their experiences in tonight’s discussion of the 5-year plan. Or just check with me after this meeting. On April 5, I drove to the SW 157th Ave. site. At 5:31. p.m. I drove the northbound 2.3 miles (with two stop signs) in 3.25 minutes. I then drove the same southbound segment at 5:36 p.m. in 3.37 minutes. Rush-hour traffic was moving faster than the 40 mph speed limit.
As the proposed 5-year plan indicates, many key PTP promises to the public are now cancelled or delayed for decades because of the federal and local financial crises. Because of this the CITT and County staff must exercise discernment in setting priorities and in the selection and timing of PTP projects, including those suggested by Commissioners. Commissioner Dennis Moss and his staff originally wanted to widen SW 147th Ave. instead, but the affected residents objected. In the rush to define projects for the PTP, the widening was transferred to this southern portion of SW 157th Ave., but this was not at all an original priority. The CITT could amend the 5-year plan to remove this low priority project before it is even put out for construction bids.
Newer CITT members should know that in May, 2006, the CITT on a 5-3 vote first rejected the contract for the engineering study for this project. A month later, after a questionable procedure, the CITT reversed itself and approved the project on a 6-3 vote. I believe the consternation in the County Government caused by the initial rejection was not because this 157th Ave. project was crucial, but because the County Government was shocked that the CITT would reject a contract.
Please contact your commissioner and let them know this is NOT A GOOD USE OF PTP dollars!
Ted Wilde, CITT member 2003-07, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee & of the Project and Financial Review Committee
Thanks to the ITeam for looking into the misuse of transit surtax revenues, but there were a few things missing from your report. While cities in Miami-Dade do have parochial and shortsighted transit planning spending patterns, it’s the system that is at fault; forcing cities to jockey for an insanely low amount of money to apply to a worthy ‘transit’ project which typically run in the hundreds of millions - leaving them far short of what they would need to run a credible system. Not to mention the anemic leadership at the County Commission and their decade long fleecing of the 1/2 Transportation Tax for anything but transit. Wider roads? Check. New intersection lights? Check. Road repaving? Check.
The report also chides the City of Miami for doing the smart thing and saving the money it gets from the trust (not hoarding it as the article states). The small payments the cities get based on their population should be saved. With most of the cities occurring along or around an existing or future major transit corridor (the South Dade Busway, Metro-Rail, or the future SFECC) these funds could amount to the all important operations and maintenance costs that plague investments in premium transit. The constant mantra of the County Commission is that it must bear the burden of these costs - but what if the cities were able to leverage their portion of the surtax against the future operating costs of the system. That would be a powerful bargaining chip for the 20-odd cities that occur around the SFECC in particular - especially at a time when the MPO is not likely to support continuation of the project for the foreseeable future.
A recently completed audit found that the cities have spent millions of dollars on projects that have nothing to do with transit or are specifically forbidden.
Miami Lakes spent part of their money for an on-demand taxi service. North Bay Village used the cash to build storm water drains. And Sweetwater used transit money to buy a garbage truck and pay police officers.
Charles Scurr is the executive director of the Citizens Independent Transit Trust, the agency which makes sure the money is spent appropriately. In cases where the money was misspent, the CITT can demand repayment.
The big missed story: what happened to the voter mandated (and legally required) independent trust that was to steward these funds through the morass of Miami-Dade County politics? It never materialized. The Citizens Independent Transportation Trust is a joke - and not because of a lack of effort on the part of its staff, but because it is not independent! To claim to be so is disingenuous, laughable, and probably illegal. We need a truly independent auditor to plan and implement a multimodal transportation network in Dade County. As long as the same tired politics play out in the County Commission chambers, transit will remain stagnant for years to come.
Funding and bus service were the themes of the night at the second annual Miami-Dade Transit Summit. In attendance were Mayor Alvarez, County Manager Burgess, Assistant County Manager and transit guru Ysela Llort, and Commissioners Barbara Jordon, Chairman Moss, and Carlos Gimenez. The audience was a mix of transit aficionados and transit users (or both) who gave a wide variety of suggestions on proposed route changes, funding mechanisms, and general discontent with the job the Commission and administration are doing to provide transit service to the citizens of Dade County.
The word affordability was repeated several times, and each time it made me cringe. How can we hold a public good like transit up to some artificial standard like affordability? Who determines what is affordable? Are our public schools affordable? Who pays for the O/M of the police and firefighters? We do. We determine what is affordable . Transit costs what it costs, and it needs to be funded whether the commission likes it or not. Affordability is not a factor, because if it was then the most affordable option would be to buy current transit users a car, dismantle MDT and call it a day. Why waste any more time and money on a public good you don’t think we can ‘afford’?
I was impressed by the many speakers who gave solid, common sense suggestions as to how to improve the system and to fund it. Here just a few of the observations I thought were on point:
- Use the surplus of MDX toll revenue to provide premium transit. The MDX representative was proud of the nearly $10 million dollar contribution they had made to MDT, but that doesn’t go far enough. The New York MTA recieves over $400 million of surplus revenue from bridge and tunnel tolls. Why can’t MDX provide a similar service? Not to mention the roads that are not tolled at all, like the Palmetto. Even a modest toll on this road would go a long way to funding the O/M of our transit system.
- Expand the tax increment districts to beyond go beyond the station areas. As transit is a good that reaches beyond the area surrounding the station, then so too should the tax benefit come from a wider area. Duh.
- Increase the gas tax.
- Stop giving away free rides to the elderly.
- Provide a thorough audit of how the 20% share of the PTP that has been used by municipalities. (I especially like this one as I am pretty sure any audit will uncover how this money has been wasted.)
Some of the best comments came from members of the local Transport Workers Union 291. Intelligent, well thought out, and passionate comments were made by the men and women who are on the ground every day and know exactly how the system works (or doesn’t). They rightfully criticized the plans for BRT expansion, citing Phoenix, Atlanta and other cities that were investing in light rail, rather than BRT. With a similar O/M cost, and higher capacity I agree with them.
I had prepared comments, but by the time my turn came to speak, all of my points had been addressed by the other speakers, save for one. It was a challenge to the administration and Commission to stop blindly throwing money at the transit ‘problem’ without having any goals or benchmarks to measure success. Throughout the night, the common response to audience concerns was “Other cities have the same problems we do.” I agreed, but observed that they did have solutions to the problem, we just were not implementing these solutions. San Fransisco recently set a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, why can’t we do the same?
In her closing remarks Commissioner Jordon responded to my comments by saying that they did have goals, but didn’t have the funds to reach them. I don’t know if she understood what I was saying, but as a person who is well versed on the subject, I have yet to see in writing a commitment by Miami-Dade County to increase transit ridership by any amount. How can we guide our investments in all forms of transportation if we don’t lay out a framework to achieve certain goals?
In the mix of transportation options available to people we include cars, transit, and walking/biking. Currently, our transit ridership share is only 2.5%, with walking/biking less than that, which means more than 90% of the trips taken in Dade County are by car. This is not an accident. In the same way we plan for future highway and roadway expansion to accommodate future ‘demand’, so too should we do the same for transit.
My challenge to the Commission and to Mayor Alvarez remains: make a goal of 30% transit ridership by 2030, and fund that goal. That is the only way we are going to get out of our transit black hole.
To CITT Members
From Ted Wilde, former CITT member 2003-07, Chair of Project and Financial Review
Re: May 28 CITT item to acquire land for widening SW 157 Ave. would be a poor use of scarce surtax funds
Summary. On April 16 the Project and Financial Review Committee split 2-2 on the resolution to acquire 15 properties for adding two lanes to SW 157 Ave. from SW 152 St. to SW 184 St. so the resolution is to be presented “without recommendation” to the May 28 full CITT. The CITT can reject this unnecessary project that will lead to misusing $13.2 million of surtax funds for road construction on the Urban Development Boundary. Supporters of the project state that SW 157 Ave. needs to connect to SW 184 St. Fine, it already connects completely; traffic on this road flows freely throughout the day, including during rush hours.
CITT can envision better alternatives. In the current severe reduction of government funds and of the transit projects in the People’s Transportation Plan [PTP], the CITT can preserve funds for projects directly serving transit users. Last year, Miami-Dade Transit applied rigorous cost-benefit criteria to cut back bus routes and frequencies. Doubling of the number of lanes of this part of SW 157 Ave. could not pass a cost-benefit analysis. Acquiring these 15 parcels is certainly not “a Public Necessity.”
In the face of all the transit cutbacks, the County Administration continues to seek completion of all PTP road and street projects proposed by County Commissioners. This is an insult to the citizens and also to Commissioners, as if they were so inflexible that they could not accept changes in 2009 to projects they proposed in 2002.
Funds the CITT saves now can be redirected later for future modest-cost transit efforts like bus rapid transit.
The County omitted essential information for an informed CITT decision. The documentation presented to CITT members before the Project and Financial Review meeting was highly deficient. It did not inform the CITT that the entire length of the proposed construction is on the Urban Development Boundary. The whole west side of this road segment is agricultural land; only the east side has mainly residential development. This part of SW 157 Ave with one side without residences will not generate the level of traffic of the road to the north where both sides are developed.
The previous documentation does not explain that the payments for land acquisition (cost not estimated), the $1.155 million for H & J Asphalt, and $228,228 for FP&L are only the start. A few years ago, total land and construction costs were projected at $13.2 million, a 35 % increase from the original projection of $9.75 million.
The documentation does not give the results of the traffic count on May 17, 2006, which showed that even in peak morning and afternoon rush hours, the traffic level never reached more than 55 % of “LOS 3,” the Level of Service of “stable flow,” which is the usual target for urban highways. An updated traffic count this year would be useful.
History of this project. The original engineering study for this project was voted down by the CITT in May 2006. It was reconsidered and passed in June 2006 (without having being placed on the published agenda).
Visit the site. Useful preparation for making a decision on this proposal is to visit the site during morning or afternoon rush hour. I visited the site on Thursday, April 2, 2009, at 7:58 a.m. In the 2006 traffic study, 8:00-8:30 a.m. was the peak of the rush hour. Starting on SW 157 Ave. at SW 184 St., I drove north to SW 152 St., back south the whole way, back north, south, and north again, 5 complete trips of the 2.3 mile route. I drove easily at 41 mph (speed limit 40), stopping at the two stop signs along the way. There is also a stop sign at SW 184 St., and the traffic light at SW 152 St. At each end, I had to make a u-turn. Total time for the 5 trips and 4 u-turns was 24 minutes. Commuter drivers elsewhere in Miami-Dade would be fortunate to have such an easy ride.
We apologize for being slow to comment on the recent Herald series about the People’s Transportation Plan disaster. Everyone at Transit Miami has been extremely busy as of late, but we’ll definitely have several pieces in the coming days and weeks discussing many of the elements referenced by Larry Lebowitz’s multi-part series.
Meanwhile, Miami Gardens is asking Miami-Dade to bump the North Corridor Expansion to Phase 1, presumably making it priority over the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC) connector. I’m not sure what benefit they expect to see out of that, as the MIC connection is not using federal funds and is currently the only piece of the Orange Line that looks like it might get built.
The feds pointed out when they downgraded the rating that they didn’t trust Miami-Dade to fund Metrorail properly. This whole failure to refurbish the cars in a timely manner merely proves them right. The CITT is trying to get the point across that band-aid fixes won’t work anymore. MDT needs a solid funding plan to get out of the current hole it’s in, and an equally solid plan to fund expansion. Without that, the feds won’t give Metrorail a dime.
Several items of interest regarding this particular segment of Metrorail:
- It will be the first extension of the train since the extension to Palmetto station;
- This segment will not be constructed with federal funds, but solely from the half-cent transportation tax implemented in Miami-Dade county, along with state funding;
- Once opened, this segment will provide a much-needed alternative for transport into the airport both by tourists using the airport’s facilities, and for workers providing services.
Further information can be found at this link to Miami-Dade Transit’s website.
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
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
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