What's the smartest way for Miami-Dade to address its excruciating traffic problems?
In a meeting Wednesday with the Miami Herald editorial board, the mayor said the SMART Plan is too expensive in its current form. Gimenez now wants most of the trains in the plan to be replaced by rapid transit buses. He says the change is needed in part because the county is losing riders and revenue from its current transit system -- maybe because of falling gas prices or the increasing popularity of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, which the county legalized in May 2016.
Whatever the reason, Gimenez says trains are more expensive than buses, that they’d take longer to put into place and could soon be replaced by other technology.
"I want to make sure that the investments we make are long-term investments that actually bring value," he said. "I’m about more looking into the future. I’m not so much about looking into 19th-century technology."
Unlike traditional buses, the rapid transit buses would have advance ticket purchases and limited stops. They’d travel in specially designated lanes outside of car traffic. They'd also take advantage of an "adaptive signal technology" system that monitors traffic flow and adjusts the timing of traffic signals to minimize congestion.
The SMART Plan aims to address congestion along six major travel corridors. Gimenez said the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority -- where he’s on the board -- is looking at implementing bus rapid transit along State Road 836.
Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade's transportation department director, said the county could begin bus rapid transit south to Florida City within three years, and north to Miami Gardens shortly after that. County documents show implementing those routes would cost about $534 million. Gimenez said the county would have to spend about $1 billion to maintain the north and south routes and buses over 30 years.
He said the county continues to see rail as a viable option for the northeast corridor to Aventura because of existing tracks, but declined to give a cost estimate.
The full cost estimate of the revised SMART Plan is available here.
This post has been corrected to reflect that Miami-Dade County legalized ride-sharing in May 2016.