Rene Infante

South Dade’s economic future is at stake next week when the County’s Transportation Planning Organization votes on a mode of transit for our community. Will it be the long- promised extension of rail or a quick fix that will operate more buses along the U.S. 1  corridor?

Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez’s preferred option to ease South Dade’s daily traffic nightmare--the commute between our communities and points further north-- is a step in the wrong direction.

South Dade must be connected to the rest of Miami-Dade by what has been a decades’ long effort to find a way to extend rail into our community. Rail is what the people want; rail was what voters envisioned when they approved the 2002 public transportation sales tax.

The so-called BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) simply adds more buses on the existing busway along with some cosmetic changes, i.e. nicer bus stops. This will not significantly alter the bumper-to-bumper traffic in and out of South Dade, nor will better buses attract a new generation of transit commuters.

The County’s own transit consultants estimate that rail would double the number of new riders as compared to simply expanding bus service. As the existing busway along U.S. 1 has demonstrated for more than 20 years, people will not get out of their cars in great numbers to ride a bus. Rail, on the other hand, is a popular and efficient mode of urban travel around the world.

The Mayor argues that rail is too expensive. A BRT would cost a fraction of what we would need to invest to build a modern rail system. It’s true that rail is considerably more expensive, but there is also a high price for not investing in the right transit mode.

More buses--even fancier ones-- will do little, or nothing, to spur economic development in South Dade. Without rail--the modern, efficient transit system we need--future generations will be left behind relegated to weak economic growth and low paying jobs.

What an opportunity lost! Today, South Dade is among the few places in the County that offer affordable land and workforce housing. We are ripe for new commercial development. But, thanks to the County’s poor policy and planning, we lack the necessary infrastructure to attract the new businesses that would create much needed jobs for our residents.

The Transportation Planning Organization’s 25-member board, comprised of County and municipal officials, is scheduled to vote on July 19 to

proceed with BRT as a South Dade strategy. At stake is far more than one more vote-taking on a long-debated transportation issue. The simple truth: if we settle for buses, South Dade will never get rail.

Yes, Mayor Gimenez is in a jam. Despite the half-penny transit tax, there are not sufficient revenues to fund rail expansion along all of the County’s designated transit corridors including those in North Dade and Miami Beach. Everyone is demanding better transportation solutions.

But, the people of South Dade should not be forced settle for less than what was promised to them. It’s time to get serious about rapid transit improvements and change the dynamics of how we travel to and from our County’s urban core where so many of us work and do business.

If our elected leaders cannot fulfill their commitment to bring rail to our community, the people of South Dade would certainly be within their rights to renege on our

commitment to fund transit improvements and recall the half-penny transit sales tax that we helped pass 16 years ago.

It’s time for the economic disparity to end!

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