Com. Esteban Bovo visits ML Chamber Luncheon

Thursday, October 19, 2017 0 Comments

In 2002, Miami-Dade voters approved a half-penny sales tax increase to fund improvements to the county’s transit and transportation services under the People’s  Transportation Plan to take cars off the roads and place people in reliable bus services.

As part of the plan, a lot of pennies have added up which allowed 34 Miami-Dade municipalities, including Miami Lakes, to receive their share of the money to purchase circulators to transport people throughout their cities.   

But the rest of the plan hit a snag in 2008 following the economic meltdown, and years of delayed projects for a Metrorail expansion, express buses and a light rail system have pushed people, who are stuck in traffic for hours, beyond the point of frustration and some are mulling moving to another city.

Even some of the major highways are congested during morning and afternoon rush hours, including the Palmetto Expressway, the Dolphin Expressway, State Road 112, and Interstate 95, and voters are second-guessing the purpose for the sales tax increase and might call for a referendum to rescind it.

Such a move could cause an economic downward spiral for Miami-Dade since economic stability has been the county’s biggest challenge, which led to the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit Plan (SMART) in hopes of restoring the massive transportation improvement plan by securing the bulk of the money from the federal government. 

The SMART plan, which was created by the county’s Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) in 2016, is a comprehensive plan which advances six rapid transit corridors to the Project Development and Environmental study phase to determine the costs and potential sources of funding for the projects.

The plan aspires to enhance mobility and reduce traffic gridlock throughout Miami-Dade, by extending Metrorail to the east and west corridors, offering rapid transit bus services to run along six major corridors, developing a light rail system and creating more than a hundred miles of paved paths, bike lanes and neighborhood streets with sidewalks for safe walking.   

FDOT is funding three of the corridors and the county is seeking major financial support for the other three, according to Miami-Dade County Commission chairman Esteban Bovo Jr., who was the guest speaker for the October Miami Lakes Chamber of Commerce membership meeting.
“I am a rail person and I want to see the rail expansion,” Bovo said. “The SMART plan creates jobs, economic opportunities, and taxes to pay for the operation and maintenance of the rail.”

Bovo, whose district includes Miami Lakes and Hialeah, said since the sales tax increase went into effect 15 years ago, frustrated residents are seeing little results in improving mobility, as the traffic gridlock gets worse, conceivably leading to road rage and people being constantly late for work and school. 

He fears residents may rescind the tax increase mostly through a referendum in the future if the traffic congestion and mobility are not improved.

“It could strongly be in jeopardy,” he said. “Residents are really frustrated because they are stuck in traffic for 10 miles. That causes them to be in a bad mood when they get to work and return home. My dog hides when I get home from work.”

Aileen Boucie, executive director of TPO, said the county’s SMART plan is similar to San Francisco’s and Los Angeles’ rapid transit plans.

The SMART plan calls for extending the commuter rail system and creating a light rail system to run near the corridors to connect passengers to buses and jitneys and transport them to their destinations.

She said the county hopes to operate several express buses running near the corridors by next summer.

“They are part of the SMART Plan to put more people on the buses,” she said.

She said her organization oversees the federal money to fund the SMART Plan.

Bovo said the original creators for Metrorail had erred by designing the elevated six-car train to run in areas where people rarely need to go for the past 32 years. 

In contrast, a light rail system is what the county needs which can transport people from Aventura, North Miami Beach, North Miami, with Downtown Miami as its final destination. 
“And we’re talking to other cities along the corridors on how do we move people better around Miami-Dade,” he said.

He said drivers who travel through tolls would also benefit from the county’s SMART plan. “They pay a toll but they are stuck in traffic,” he said. 

Bovo said the SMART plan can bring more job opportunities and spur economic growth, while protecting the county’s Urban Development Boundary, or UDB.

“It takes less pressure on the UDB by smart development along the corridors,” he said.

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