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Miami-Dade Leaders Debate Which Transportation Project Should Get Top Priority

Walter Michot
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade County leaders are hoping their multi-billion dollar, multi-decade transit plan will provide commuters with alternatives to rush hour traffic jams.

Miami-Dade County leaders eager to dive in on a long-term, multi-project transit plan are divided over how to pick which project to fund first.

The goal of the SMART (Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit) Plan is to give commuters transit options other than freeways and highways that turn into parking lots during rush hour. The plan identifies six high-traffic "corridors" where train lines and express bus routes would be developed to reduce congestion. It's expected to cost from $3.6 billion to $6 billion.

County officials at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce panel discussion Wednesday made clear they're not in agreement about which corridor should be developed first, despite a need for consensus in order to receive federal funding.

County Commission Chair Esteban Bovo said he thinks the "south" corridor -- a Metrorail extension from the Dadeland South station to Florida City -- should be the top priority because the county already owns the right-of-way and "municipalities in the south have bought into it, have banged the drums on what they want to see down there."

Starting with that corridor, "shows our public, our residents, our community we're serious about doing something" to address congestion, Bovo said. Commissioner Francis Suarez, who is vice-chair of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, agreed, adding, "There's courage needed on prioritization."

But Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade's transportation director, said her top priority right now is looking at the six projects comprehensively.

"The end game is to implement the entire SMART plan," she said. "And therefore as part of these studies, we have to find the most cost-effective solution for each corridor, and we have to plan those solutions well. Because if we don't include the park-and-ride lots and the other things that we need to feed the system, it does us no good to implement a project and have no ridership."

Bravo and other panelists said they're hoping the federal government will fund some portion of the SMART plan. John Porcari, a national transportation expert and former deputy U.S. transportation secretary, said the county has the best shot at receiving federal funding if leaders establish a list of priorities and stick to it.

"You have to get your act together as a region," he said. "It's explicitly what the [Trump] administration is saying, and you have to get your local funding and financing portion together. Come to the federal government for the last dollar."

At the end of the event, Bovo and Bravo agreed they’d like to have begun funding one of the corridors by this time next year, although Bravo said she first wants to have a financial framework in place for all six. In addition to the south corridor along U.S. 1 toward Florida City, the high-traffic corridors are Kendall Drive, the Dolphin Expressway, the MacArthur Causeway and Northwest 27th Avenue, plus a proposed corridor from downtown Miami to Aventura along old Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

This post has been updated to identify the six high-traffic corridors.