In Miami-Dade’s ongoing (and surprisingly heated) rail vs. BRT battle, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has come out strong for Team Bus. The Mayor has signed a $534 million proposal for a number of BRT routes that would “indefinitely defer the Metrorail expansion promised voters in 2002 during a referendum for a half-percent transportation tax that currently generates about $250 million a year,” according to the Miami Herald.
Cost is his number one motivator, according to the proposal. BRT costs a fraction of light rail to build and operate — As Jen Kinney wrote for Next City last year, a January 2016 study found that upgrading service along the South Dade Busway (a 20-mile stretch of highway for buses running to Florida City) would cost about $115 million, compared to $2.5 billion on the same route for light rail. And BRT would cost roughly $21 million per year to run, compared to $46 million for rail.
“We’ve been looking at this for some time,” Gimenez told members of a county transportation board Monday, according to the Herald. “And these numbers are real.”
The mayor is also concerned about securing federal funding for rail, although he campaigned on the mode last year. One of his TV ads promised, in all caps, “MORE RAIL LINES.”
“Given the uncertainty regarding federal funding and the importance of improving mobility in Miami-Dade County, it is important we work closely with the state to pursue the 50 percent eligibility so that projects would be funded 50 percent locally and 50 percent by the state,” according to the proposal.
A number of suburban mayors in the Miami-Dade area have pushed back against the idea of BRT, citing that 2002 transit tax, which promised nearly 90 miles of extra rail, but has so resulted only in a two-mile extension to Miami International Airport. As Next City’s Kelsey E. Thomas wrote last year, Miami ranks among the most traffic-congested cities in the U.S., but transit ridership dropped by 7 percent between 2014 and 2015. One strategy floated last year proposed establishing special districts along expanded transit routes to capture some the tax revenue paid from nearby real estate.
But Gimenez wants to get started, and seems convinced that BRT is the best way to actually get transit infrastructure on the ground. He wants to implement a system within the next three years, according to the Herald. The $534 million would go toward purchasing a dedicated bus route north of the 20-mile stretch it already owns and elevating some intersections along the South Date busway, among other expenses.
But some commissioners weren’t convinced, and their concerns echoed those of the suburban mayors.
“We promised people in 2002 rail. We recommitted in 2016 to rail,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said, according to the Herald. “And we need to explore every option available to try and make good on that original promise.”
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.