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.
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