South Dade to Get New Transit System….finally - South Dade News Leader: Community News | South Dade News Leader | Miami Dade County

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South Dade to Get New Transit System….finally

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2018 10:09 pm

“Don’t Call Them Buses. It’s a Rapid Transit System.  (I think) that’s where we need to change the narrative.”

Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter

It has taken years. Fifteen to be exact. It appears South Dade is going to get a new, improved transit system. It’s called BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). Many were hoping for what is commonly termed heavy rail, which is a traditional commuter train on iron rails with overhead power supplied via a continuous grid of power lines.

BRT is commonly referred to as ‘a train without tracks’.

The News Leader sat down with Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and Homestead Director of Developmental Services Joe Corradino, who is also the Mayor of Pinecrest. Pinecrest also has considerable ‘skin-in-the-game’ as their residents will be greatly impacted by the new transit system as well. We met to discuss what is in store for those commuters that have been waiting for a better system to get to their jobs to the north, via Dadeland train station.

Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) adopted a plan that benefits the communities of Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Homestead and Florida City. The TPO is made up of the Miami Dade County Commissioners, multiple community leaders and elected officials. Porter sits on the TPO.

The intent of the TPO from the outset has been to improve the commute to Miami. This need was recognized years ago and a $.005 

sales tax was instituted to build the revenue needed for what even by 2003 standards was a hugely aggressive financial undertaking.

This was seen as crucial to the quality of life in South Dade in terms of comfort and efficiency while helping reduce the daily nightmare of driving on the roads and managing the related everyday delays due to excessive volume.

“This is going to work. This is going to be really nice.” Porter said convincingly.

“It’s going to improve people’s quality of life dramatically,” Corradino added.

For those that drive this route every day, this is seen as the proverbial ‘no-brainer’. We have all heard the stories of commute times getting longer than anyone ever imagined. Stories of one-way commutes to downtown taking over an hour on a good day and sometimes lasting over two hours are common.

As of this date, the TPO has submitted the application for the federal funds that will be needed to pay for what will be one of the largest public projects in Miami-Dade County history.

This article is not about the continuing debate over BRT vs. trains. TPO has voted to go forward with the BRT plan and has applied for the needed federal funds. Simply stated at this venture, BRT will be operational by 2022 whereas heavy rail would be operational in 2028. Both of those projected dates may be optimistic when considering the massive red tape that will accompany this aggressive project.

It is safe to assume that when finalizing their decision on this project that by all accounts is so far overdue, the time frame played a major part in their decision.

Among the reasons given for BRT as the better alternative are:

-- The route is already in place; the current busway will be retrofitted with off-board fare collection capabilities. Service will in both directions simultaneously. New stations with weather protection will be constructed.

-- The new system will have ‘curb-loading’. This is much like the train in that it loads at curb height and doors are considerably wider. For example, if a wheelchair passenger boards, it will be much easier for that passenger while not hindering boarding to others in line. This wider access when coupled with pre-board fare collection will make pick-up/drop off much faster.

Consider the estimated financial bottom line:  

               Capital Cost          Yearly costs        Costs thru 2057

BRT         $243 million          $15 million         $865 million

Heavy     $1.32 billion           $67 million         $4.2 billion

Rail

-- The BRT system will be ready in 2-3 years. The train would not be operational until 2026 at the earliest, 2028 is more likely.

According to the experts that developed this plan, both systems will take approximately the same amount of time for the same commute. Florida City to Dadeland Station – 40 minutes.

The TPO based their decision on volumes of information and after multiple studies. They also listened to opinions from every corner of our community. From the current elected officials, and those that were in office when this started nearly 15 years ago, the bottom line seems to be they chose the system that would be the most affordable.

That decision will also greatly affect the federal government’s willingness to provide their portion of the funding. And it is the decision that ultimately wil be functional and available to commuters sooner.

Another important result of the TPO’s decision is that it will help keep the South Dade Corridor portion of the county’s overall plan to improve mass transit at the top of the list of projects to get started, and finished, first.

The City of Albuquerque New Mexico has recently installed a rapid transit system. Rick DeReyes, spokesperson for Albuquerque Transit Authority told us they rolled out their new system last December and, unfortunately have a few ‘bugs to work out’, but expect to be fully operational very soon. The primary system problem they had was lack of battery power. They rolled out electric BRT.

DeReyes shared a video of what their system will look like when operational. To get a good idea of what is in store for greater South Dade, log onto: https://vimeo.com/153011131

“(This is) the best decision we could have made for South Dade for rapid transit and for mobility. I understand the romantic decision was for rail, but it cost too much and would take too long. We get this now, we spur economic development,” Corradino summarized.

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