Brightline and Tri-Rail take South Floridians across the region. Now a monorail plan is in the works.
Miami-Dade County transit officials and transit planners in Broward County are proposing a single track that would run along Northwest 27th Avenue in Miami — connecting the Hard Rock Stadium up to an area of college campuses in Broward. The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization is hoping that the penny sales tax that Broward voters approved last November be used, in part, to fund the project - if the county's surtax oversight committee approves.
WLRN has been asking listeners what they think about the proposed monorail.
“Rail travel between Miami-Dade and Broward is absolutely needed!” said Cachetta Derricott in Parkland. “It will help alleviate traffic by decreasing too many cars occupied by one driver on the interstate.”
“I’m glad that finally South Florida is taking on initiatives with public transportation,” said Patricia Ayuso of Aventura. “I also hope that public transportation gets even better and expands in future years.”
WLRN’s Broward County reporter Caitie Switalski spoke with Gregory Stuart, the executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, about the proposed monorail and how the idea stemmed from a trip to Asia.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
STUART: In the United States, you think 1950s, 1960s Disney monorail. While those do move people, they're cutesy. What we saw in both Japan and China weren't your Disney monorails. They were actually functioning in urban environments; folks moving all over the place. It was a very different experience for all of us. And I think that helped illuminate the potential for us here in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach – what we could do as a system.
WLRN: What was the part about the trip [to Asia] that stuck out the most to you?
In Japan, all of their transit is actually privately operated. That was a surprise to me because I've always been told that transit doesn't make a profit, and it doesn't in the United States the way we've structured things. However, in Japan, the government will build the piers, the surface for the rail system, or the monorail or whatever the vehicle may be, but then the private sector actually buys the cars, buys the equipment, provides the operating. And they're making money. It's almost like Brightline.
We met with Japan’s Ministry of Transportation. Their development and their density didn't really start occurring until after World War II – which is actually very similar to South Florida. You don't think of Tokyo and Miami and Fort Lauderdale in the same thought process, but realistically that's when they actually started growing. They started making these investments in monorail technology and all that in the late 70s early 80s and now all of a sudden their streets really are not crowded like ours are.
People living in Fort Lauderdale really shot down the idea of the Wave streetcar system because a lot of citizens felt it was outdated technology, and not resilient for climate change and hurricanes. With a monorail, is that any different?
We tried to help with that project as best we could as an MPO. But when that was cancelled out, one of the things that resonated in my head ... folks kept saying, 'Go look at Asia. Go look at these things, look at what they're doing over there.' So we went.
On the resilient side, which is why I like the monorail systems that we've seen, is they're elevated. The immediate issue that we have here is congestion. We need to find a different solution for that and we can't widen our way out of this either, with the roads. [It's] about a $100 million a mile to widen a road, to add an additional lane on an either side. With the impacts of sea-level rise, with the impacts of the King Tides, with the impacts of our failing infrastructure that is under our roads that we need to deal with, elevating a transit system actually makes it more efficient - and will actually make it more resilient.
One of the bigger questions that I asked in both Japan and China to both monorail operators was, 'When do you have to stop operating the system?' Our trains and our buses typically stop operating here with 30-35 mph winds. The monorail system can continue operating up to 65 mph winds. That's a really big help when you have roads being shut down because you have a declared state of emergency.
Voters in Broward approved the penny tax for transportation projects in the November election. More than 700 projects were identified for that. What does a monorail look like if we're using funds from that tax?
This complements because there was always the proposal to do some type of light-rail system. So monorail or whatever it may be will complement that system. The full penny sales tax is Broward County will now be able to have the ability to at least put the groundwork in to build that system. It's not just a monorail. It's not just a roadway. It's not just a bus system. It's not just a signalization because that's not going to solve everything either. It is the series of things that have to be put together.
What would you tell people who are skeptical that this monorail will go from idealistic promise to something they can actually take to work every day?
We're going to hopefully get with the county and maybe even have a joint meeting of the MPO and the county commission. We're not there yet. I get stuck in traffic. I drive every day. I get very frustrated and I always come in here and say, 'Can't somebody do something about this?' Well, they can, and we are. But it's not going to happen overnight.
Editor's Note: For clarity, the Asia trip did not include county transit employees, according to the county. An earlier version of this story identified Stuart as a "Broward County Transit leader." The MPO operates seperate from the county's transit office, and has been re-identified as a transit planner.