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).

We need to return to the core PTP projects - Douglas Avenue, Baylink, FEC


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.

Near-Term Transportation Plan for Miami-Dade County 2012-2015, NW 27 Ave Enhanced Bus

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.


37 Responses to The Metro-Rail Orange Line: What Comes Next?

  1. Excellent article. I like what they’re doing with NW 27th Avenue, but as you said, that street has the 4th busiest bus route. I don’t know how Biscayne ranks, but it’s also mighty busy. I hope it’s getting the sane attention. Good to see that they’re implementing the SR 836 route.


  2. I really think that we need the north corridor at least break it down in phases. the first phase should be from 79th to Miami dade college. and the second to county line. I think the first phase would bring lots of revenue and attract development on the north campus. Just think, you have all the land there,its good for the Gratigny parkway,that can become another dadeland south. Instead of people commuting from broward from i-75 to SB SR.826,they can just continue east on SR-924, which is a 5 min drive to Miami dade college station.It’s a no brainer.


  3. Also Miami dade transit needs to advertise more. I mean people are stuck in traffic every day and i feel like they don’t have any goals to make money. They should start using the the message board on the expresswaay, for example,all SB message boards on I-75 and SR-826 SB before NW 74th Street should state
    (SAVE GAS) or here is one more
    I bet ridership will boost.


  4. TransitDave says:

    I have in my archives a poll taken shortly after the passage of the PTP, asking those who voted for the PTP WHY they voted yes, and specifically what parts of the plan they wanted to see happen: The overwhelming majority of 65% of respondants wanted more Metrorail; the next most popular feature of the plan I can’t recall,I think it was more bus routes, but it got about 30% …… Clearly, people voted for the PTP because they wanted more Metrorail…..I’ll try to dig it up and send it in…..In advocating for reform of the PTP, lets keep this in mind…….If reform of the PTP won’t get us at least the full Orange line, and maybe even an extention from dadeland to Quail roost drive, the my vote would be to repeal the PTP, as much as it pains me to contemplate……


  5. Tony Garcia says:

    agreed on heavy rail being central to the PTP….but Im not sure about the orange line or the extension to Quail Roost as central to the success of the system. How about Douglas Road or Bay Link or FEC? I think they have more of a shot at creating a complete network, and more importantly building ridership and demand. the orange line won’t reach nearly the same number of people as douglas road. I think if MetroRail has a future in South Florida it needs to be easily accessible to a greater cross-section of Miami-Dade society. The Orange Line and South Dade extension would not be as successful (IMO) in creating a market with the non-zero car household demographic (most people in MD).


  6. Kyle says:

    I support Metro expansions completely, but the NW 27th Avenue Metro line was a waste and would have never reached high ridership levels. Efforts should have been placed on the FIU line first. I think MDT is doing a good job with focusing on BRT for 27th Avenue, I think it’s justifiable based on population density and existing ridership.

    That said, if MDT is now going to focus on BRT, they should at least focus on the busiest corridors as well- Biscayne Blvd, Flagler St, SW 8th St, Downtown-South Beach, Brickell-CoralWay-Miracle Mile, etc. The city is starting its waste (of time and money) trolleys, when investment should instead be to get streetcars connecting the aforementioned corridors. BRT does not bring TOD development, streetcars, LRT and Metro expansions do.

    MDT should start seriously looking into starting light rail systems.


  7. Kyle says:

    Also, excellent post Mr Garcia, thank you!


  8. B says:

    I agree with Kyle above about light rail. Why does our choice of transit mode have to be either an “enhanced bus” or Metrorail expansion?

    I am against the 27th ave Metrorail line. It should be done as BRT, and is probably not even suitable for light rail.

    Malcolm mentions the Miami-Dade North Campus as possibly the next Dadeland South, but unlike Dadelend, there really isn’t much there except for the North Campus itself. When Dadeland South was built, there was already significant urban development in the area. The emphasis of Metrorail shouldn’t be trying to do transit oriented development from scratch, but to serve areas with existing dense development where car ownership rates are lower (Miami Beach, Little Havana, North Miami, North Miami Beach).


  9. M says:

    I agree with several people (B, Kyle,Tony Garcia) that we need to focus premium transit service on existing dense urban corridors like Douglas Road or Baylink. However, I wonder if the reason why these corridors are not considered is because they are so dense. I work along Douglas Road and I cannot imagine how to build transit on that street because there is no room. No one will allow any traffic lanes to be removed and an underground system would be too expensive. Similarly, with FDOT adding another lane to the MacArthur bridge for the Port of Miami Tunnel, I would think that project would also become prohibitively expensive. Even FDOT’s FEC corridor project is projected to cost billions of dollars (though if just the first phase in Miami-Dade were built, it could be cheaper).

    I would like to hear some opinions about this. How can we develop premium transit service in the heart of the urban area if we have no money? If it were guaranteed that those lines were built, would taxpayers agree to a new sales tax? Are there federal grant monies available to pay for it? If those things were built, can MDT afford the operating costs?


  10. In reply to M= Due the density of this line I’m sure the Fedaral government would foot 80%.MDT just needs to get its paper in order. First off they need to charge a 25or50 cent fare for the metro mover,and also they need to start charging a discount fare to all seniors instead of letting them ride for free.Name one transit agency they has seniors riding free?because no major agency can afford it.Also like a stated before MDX and MDT needs to merge and become a MTA like New York City.They fund the subway with toll fares from all the bridges and tunnels.What will happen after MDX finish all their projects?Were just going to be collection tolls?
    After reading all the comment about the north corridor, I see that people are right the douglas road and baylink will have higher ridership.But you can’t compare the orange line with baylink. The orange line is more for park and riding and the baylink is more urban.I just think that we shouldn’t forget about the north corridor.I was born and raised in Miami Gardens, and that line has been promised for 25-30 years.I really think the county owe the line to the community after all these years.BRT is cheaper but its not want people want.Building this line would change the area.I remember catching the 27 an the MAX, is was always crowded.


  11. Ellen says:

    Light rail is the way to go, IMO. I have recently visited PHX & Austin and was very impressed with the light rail systems they have installed in the last few years. A light rail line straight out to at least FIU would be a dream come true for western commuters. I encourage visiting youtube and google
    Phoenix light rail. The station stops, while concrete and minimalist, have incorporated bougainvillea and local artists’ work into them for more visual appeal. Makes me sorry I moved away 20 years ago.


  12. M says:

    Ellen - I moved here from Arizona and I agree that Phoenix light rail is nice. However, one correction, Austin does not have light rail. They have commuter rail running on existing freight rail tracks similar to our Tri-Rail.


  13. UDB says:

    I agree with many of the comments above. I always hear county staff and elected officials talk about Metrorail and bus being the only two transit options available here. We need light rail, streetcar & commuter rail to become a serious part of the discussion! It’s infuriating to hear elected officials say they can’t afford light or commuter rail on the FEC, when it would cost a fraction of Metrorail and about the same as BRT.


  14. Tony Garcia says:

    Acually the jury is still our on whether BRT is more/less expensive than LRT (from an operations perspective they are similar. Also, consider the capital cost vs operating cost. Check out this link:
    Go to page 82 for an analysis of Rail v. bus

    Brt is not necessarily cheaper to operate than LRT…LRT capital costs depend on ROW ownership, and are generally higher than BRT, but LRT can carry more passengers…


  15. B says:

    @Malcolm: Metrorail North Line to the mouth of the Gratigny (and also the SR9 southwest from Golden Glades) would definitely be a strategic place for a Metrorail park-n-ride. But for most commuters, it’s only practical if you actually work within walking distance to a Metrorail station. There is so much in the urban core that you would need to transfer to a bus to get to, which would easily eliminate any time you save on the Metrorail…and then some. I would argue that the reason why park-n-ride works for many metro systems (DC comes to mind) is that almost everywhere you would need to go in the City is directly accessible by a metro ride with NO bus transfer.

    @M: It is not hard to design a Metrorail station above the street without removing any traffic lanes. Civic Center is a good example. With light rail, this is almost impossible to do.


  16. Tony Garcia says:

    And don’t discount the possibility of tunneling. The Port Tunnel will be a great learning experience and may help pave the way for other tunnel projects.


  17. I actually never thought about using the FEC track for a commuter service. That would actually be pretty fantastic! Looking at the map, yiy seems that it goes all the way to the FIU area, or at least the airport. This would do a lot for NE Miami-Dade in terms of transportation, although it wouldn’t have the speed of Metrorail, which maxes out at 59 MPH in some places.


  18. Tony Garcia says:

    @Brandt: You can check out our analysis of the SFECC study here:

    There are several options on the table that would include commuter rail, metrorail, light rail..and it will go up to Palm Beach….this is pretty huge.


  19. Cody says:

    If anything, SFRTA the agency that operates Tri-Rail, and only Tri-Rail should be merged into MDT along with MDX. There needs to be greater coalition between are many transit agencies. We are one Miami region, not eight.

    I think the FEC Tri-Rail line is very practical, logical, and less expensive than most may think. The rail lines are already there, many of the city’s densest neighborhoods are along the FEC line in Miami and with stations at every so often, we could have commuters from Aventura, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, North Miami, Upper Eastside, Buena Vista, Miami Shores, etc. easily getting to Downtown and Brickell directly with a Tri-Rail line down the FEC.

    1. We need a large, central, region-wide transit agency

    2. We need Metrorail expansions (in the form of LRT or Streetcar perhaps)

    3. We need the FEC Tri-Rail from Fort Lauderdale to Downtown Miami


  20. Mikey says:

    There is a rarely used CSX frieght line that runs along the 836 on NW 12th Street from NW 147th Ave and is fairly close to FIU, Dolphin/International Malls, and runs to the airport. I have no idea why this line hasnt been studied by MDT for light rail or even a commuter line. With this and the Metrorail extention to the airport, you essentialy have created a East-West line on the cheap.


  21. M says:

    Tony Garcia - you mention tunneling as a potential transit option. I’ve thought about this too, but with the Port tunnel costing $1 billion, is tunneling actually feasible?

    B - I have seen the Metrorail station over a street, however it’s pretty ugly. Would people on Douglas Road or the city of Coral Gables allow that? Has anyone seen an attractive elevated station in another city?

    Mikey - There is also a spur of that line that runs southwest along SR-874 Don Shula Expressway all the way to Homestead. That would be great for commuter rail, but I heard once that people in that part of the county did not want trains running through their neighborhoods. Perhaps now it would be different.

    Regarding SFRTA - I attended the last meetings and they have chosen a combination of local and commuter rail along FEC and CSX tracks. The proposal looks interesting, but Metrorail, BRT, and lightrail are not being considered.


  22. Tony Garcia says:

    @m: We still don’t know what the ‘preferred alternative’ is. Check out my analysis from the last round of meetings here:


  23. TransitDave says:

    There are 2 primary factors to consider in the Metrorail versus light rail:

    !. Metrorail is FASTER and can carry up to 10 times the bodies per hour at peak capacities
    than a streetcar system; a dedicated right of way light rail system could approach the capacity, but would also approach the cost of a full metro system.Makes total sense on the FEC right of way, though (see my article on the London DLR)

    2. The next 20 miles or so of Metrorail built will be able to use the maintenence yard and
    would not require an entirely new fleet of rolling stock as would a light rail system.

    Also worth noting, the 27th avenue leg of the orange line does not have the population density we’d like to see, but park and ride commuters from Broward and NW dade would certainly fill the trains at rush hour, much as south dade commuters fill the southern end of the existing green line now.

    The orange line as designed makes sense with these qualifications; other comments about going underground likewise make sense; boring a tunnel under douglas road is not to be compared with going 120 feet under the channel as the Port Tunnel is doing, nevertheless it is instructive when thinking about a subway line from downtown to the Port and South Beach, which was approved in the 1990’s, and died for lack of funding.

    South beach will never allow an elevated rail system of any kind, and there’s too much traffic for a streetcar to make sense as anything other than a local circulator.

    But, can you imagine being able to take a subway from downtown to Lincoln road in under 12 minutes, or the airport to SOBE in under 20?

    No one would EVER drive, and that ride alone would justify the obscene cost of such a system. But, we can only hope we’ll see it in our lifetimes, and reforming the PTP is just the first step of a long journey.


  24. B says:

    M - I’ve seen some elevated stations which look nice and even futuristic at street level, in Bangkok and throughout asia. Also , look at the new “Miami Central Station” design concept. Of course, the tracks are not nearly as attractive from above and there is the (bigger?) issue of noise.

    For a subway system in Miami, It would be more like digging a long 30-40 ft ditch, installing the system and stations, then covering it back up with roads, intersections, ect. We wouldn’t necessarily need a specialized boring machine. However, the best opportunities for transit expansions at this point in time are the existing rail lines we already have in place-especially FEC.


  25. Tony Garcia says:

    great comments @TD and @B


  26. M says:

    I am loving the input from everyone and discussing the investment in premium transit in Miami but I wonder if our leaders ever have these conversations. Regarding TransitDave’s mention of the subway to Miami Beach, I’ve seen those plans and I 100% agree it would be gret for citizens, and our tourist industry. TransitDave says those plans were approved but died because of a lack of funding. I’ve learned that money is not usual an impediment to anything and the Marlins Stadium and huge debt to rebuild the airport are examples. We can always get bonds to fund projects. We just need to get leaders who believe transit projects are worthwhile.


  27. Steven Kohl says:

    I have to agree with M here 100%. A lot of these projects could get done if we actually had the leadership to push quality transit projects. As it stands now, we have no one fighting for our city’s transit. Without that, we can forget about any Metro expansions.

    I also think a Metro line to South Beach would be extremely popular and definitely feasible but two main issues are against it:

    1. the Miami Beach government has never come out to truly support transit in South Beach

    2. it’d be expensive to do it underground, so that definitely would never happen. It’d have to go above ground and that would make all the homeowners on the islands and South Beach protest. It’s difficult, but not impossible. LRT I think is the best bet for South Beach IMO.

    However, I see A LOT of wasted opportunity in the existing and underitilized FEC and CSX lines. We could easily have Metro or even cheaper, Tri-Rail expansions from Central Station to Kendall on CSX and Downtown to Fort Lauderdale on the FEC line. These would help so many people get to Downtown fast.

    Why haven’t our leaders pushed Tri-Rail lines on the FEC and CSX? How can we get something started? Maybe a coalition, an advocacy group? It’s time we started something serious here as a group and get our voices heard. There is strength in numbers and Miami can and will have better transit. Come on Miamians!


  28. M says:

    In somewhat related news, some group has ranked Miami as the 8th most walkable city in the U.S. (Miami Beach is the most walkable in Florida, but was not counted in the study because it was only for large cities). This is just another great reason to invest in transit! The article from the Herald is here…


  29. Cody says:

    ^ We need LR Metrorail expansions now more than ever.


  30. TJ Walker says:

    Anyone thought about a continuation of the orange line from the Central Station to NE 36th St/Wynwood. The line would be small but it would connect the Design District, Buena Vista, Midtown and Wynwood neighborhoods to the Metro. The line could then be expanded to South Beach via the Julia Tuttle. It could be funded from the PTP like the Airport Link.


  31. Daniel says:

    That’s actually a great idea.

    Also, in response to the comment about charging for Metromover again, I believe part of the reason the fare was removed other than that they got too trigger-happy with the tax money was that for the pittance of 25 cents that people were willing to pay, it wasn’t even worth paying for the collection system/staff. Additionally, it feeds into Metrorail ridership and for the numbers we’ve seen since 2002, I’d say it’s worth it. A fare would see a dramatic loss in Metromover ridership and likely even a small dent in Metrorail.

    Now that the books are open and all the cards are on the table I think another half cent tax should be proposed with some more truth backed reasoning to give the full cent which is what they really needed in the first place.


  32. Daniel says:

    And yes, advertising would be a really good idea. I rarely use south Dixie highway but know that it is deadlock everyday even along the metrorail line. I can’t believe the ridership on the south line isn’t higher than it is because all those cars have to sit there at all those long winded lights along that off grid road that is so slow due to its being intersected by both streets and avenues and watch the metrorail fly by. Its probably because many of those car drivers need to go much farther than dadeland south reaches and park and riding is a little too expensive to make it desirable to many. This is not an assumption as I have come across complaints for exactly that.


  33. […] By 2010, a partial expansion of bus service was basically entirely reversed, the other rail projects simply do not exist according to the Miami-Dade website, and the only improvements to the North Corridor have been in the form of an improved bus line. […]


  34. j says:

    I have thoughts of this everyday , why cant they make a rail system that goes along the turnpike and connect to the get all the riders that live west. the people voted in 2002 , its been 10 yrs how is it that only two stations can be built, as for not having money how much can you get off 1/2 cent increase in tax revenue with over 2 million inhabitants. theres third world country that dont have funds and are able to complete a rail system..


  35. Brandt A. says:

    That would be awesome…it would put somewhat of a dent in the car dependency out there.


  36. Alain says:

    The Downtown - Miami Beach line it’s long overdue. Traffic to the beach is limited due to the bridges… where are the plans… I guess more lines, less traffic and less cars, less cars then less tolls, less oil and less traffic tickets, and the last three is where the county money is at!…


  37. teresa fernandez says:

    lets stop yapping about a railed transportation system out here to the area of dolphin mall and fiu and start building our future yesterday. we are suffocating and drowning in a never ending traffic nightmare out here to the west of miami we need a smarter efficient railed system now now now now


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