Unlike NY City, Mayor Carlos Gimenez can’t afford to build more rail lines and should invest millions in transit dollars creating modernized express bus systems running north and south.
“I look at this as part of my job: Be realistic, bring us down to earth,” Gimenez told members of a county transportation board. “I know there’s going to be push back. I know there’s going to be a lot of people who have different ideas about what we should do. But we’ve been looking at this for some time. And these numbers are real.”
Gimenez’s $534 million proposal for rapid-bus routes 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.
It also would leave the mayor’s celebrated SMART Plan to expand rapid transit countywide mostly as a blueprint for faster bus service in the short-term rather than an historic expansion of rail in multiple directions countywide. Gimenez and his aides did say there is enough money in the current 40-year financial forecasts to allow Miami-Dade to help subsidize an expansion of Tri-Rail along existing private-sector tracks that run parallel to Biscayne Boulevard in Northeast Miami-Dade.
Other elected leaders said they would refuse to drop the rail ambitions that have come to surround the SMART Plan. Gimenez unveiled the plan during his reelection campaign last year, then touted it on a television ad under the headline “More Rail Lines.”
“If we want to get people out of their cars, they’re not going to get out of their cars for” rapid-transit buses, Commissioner Barbara Jordan told Gimenez. “But they will get out of their cars for a rail system.”
By purchasing land for dedicated bus lanes along Northwest 27th Avenue, Miami-Dade would secure real estate needed for a future rail line there if the county could afford one in the future, said Alice Bravo, Gimenez’s transit chief. “What you do now is a down payment for future rail,” she said.
Esteban “Steve” Bovo, chairman of the County Commission, said he had been holding back proposed legislation designed to accelerate rail plans so that it would not conflict with the administration’s pending plans. Bovo said he would introduce legislation inviting private developers to submit transit proposals for the SMART Plan’s six corridors, and that he wants Miami-Dade to pour money into one of them to prove something impressive can get built.
“Everything in this county has to be force fed,” Bovo said. “We’re going to be bold, or we’re not going to be bold.”