Miami-Dade County’s 16-years-in-the-making transit battle will come to a head next week.
On July 19, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez plans to ask the local transportation board to endorse building a bus rapid transit system along the South Dade busway, a two-lane highway already reserved for county buses, the Miami Herald reports. Gimenez began pushing for BRT along the busway last year, when he signed a $534-million proposal for a number of routes, as Next City reported at the time.
The problem: A transit tax approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2002 promised 90 miles of rail, not bus-tracks. So far, that tax has only resulted in a two-mile extension to the Miami International Airport, and many leaders, particularly suburban mayors in south Miami-Dade County, don’t want funds or space diverted for anything with rubber tires.
“Unless you’re talking about light rail, don’t bother coming to South Dade talking about bigger buses,” Kionne McGhee, a state representative, told the Herald in 2016. “There’s not a single pastor, a single mayor, a single city council member who is asking for bus. They’re all asking for rail.”
But although Gimenez made a number of campaign promises about rail, the price-tag of BRT eventually won him over. A January 2016 study found that upgrading service along the busway would cost $115 million, compared to $2.5 billion for light rail, as Jen Kinney wrote for Next City at the time. Currently, the mayor’s proposal for the entire bus network rests at $300 million, according to the Herald.
“We’ve been looking at this for some time,” Gimenez told members of a county transportation board in 2017. “And these numbers are real.”
The mayor also voiced concern about securing federal funding for rail, positing that BRT could more realistically be covered by state and local dollars. The county appears less concerned about that now; According to the Herald, if Gimenez secures the board’s backing, the plan “is to apply for federal funding within weeks, with hopes that Washington and Florida would agree to cover about two-thirds of the price tag in 2019.” Operations could start as soon as 2022.
But securing the board’s backing is still an “if.”
From the paper:
Miami-Dade is ready to conclude the South Dade SMART study by recommending rapid transit bus for that corridor. The transportation board could accept that recommendation, or vote to overrule the administration and select extending Metrorail for South Dade. The board could also delay the decision altogether and conclude the July 19 meeting without a decision.
Regardless, South County leaders are swearing they won’t forget that original 2002 promise of rail.
If any 2020 mayoral candidate believes he/she can win a Mayoral Race in Miami-Dade without the support of South Dade, he/she is mistaken. If you don’t support the RAIL now, I will lead the Charge in SOUTH DADE to reject you later. That’s a PROMISE. @IRideMDT @MiamiDadeBCC— Kionne McGhee (@kionnemcghee) June 25, 2018
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.