While the recent state legislature rejected all Dade efforts to boost mass transit, veteran transportation leader Maurice Ferre says it's "completely wrong" to assume that the state will continue to oppose the county's transit efforts.
Ferre points to the $850 million "Signature Bridge"/I-395 project that's about to get started after being on the drawing boards in one form or another going back to at least 2001.
A 15-year wait for developing transit corridors in Miami-Dade? That's way too long for Francis Suarez, a city commissioner and vice-chair of the county's main transportation body, the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Suarez and Ferre, however, agree that the county is now in a strong position to move forward on transit after a Suarez-initiated resolution passed the MPO declaring that mass transit was now the county's highest priority. (It was Ferre who suggested that Suarez change "high priority" to "highest.")
"The message we sent is very clear and unambiguous, and we had never done that before," Suarez said.
Both are emphatic that other agencies must now pay attention because the MPO, which includes all 13 county commissioners, was unanimous in backing six corridors.
Ferre: Journalists (including me) Mistaken
But Ferre added that journalists -- including me -- make a mistake. "You expect these things to happen immediately. The process doesn't work that way."
Ferre, a former mayor of Miami, is on the boards of the MPO, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Florida Transportation Commission.
Ferre echoed Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who told the MPO that he wasn't recommending any particular mode for the transit corridors because he didn't want to get caught recommending "the last flip phone."
Ferre himself is partial to the potential of maglev technology, whose proponents say will be considerably cheaper than light- or heavy-rail.
But how long a wait will there be for a new technology?
"I haven't the foggiest idea," Ferre said, but when it happens, it will be much quicker than people expect.
Suarez: Don't Go Down Rabbit Hole
Meanwhile, Francis Suarez said he's working on as many fronts as possible to bring funding quickly to Dade transit.
The federal and state environmental and planning processes can take at least two years. With the feds in particular, "we can find ourselves going down a rabbit hole that we can't get out of," since any federal funding is far from guaranteed.
Suarez said he's working with Rep. Carlos Curbelo to look at the possibility of a transit project starting with one kind of funding, then when the project is under way, pursue federal dollars.
Both Ferre and Suarez support the idea of the MPO putting out requests for ideas on how to deal with the corridors, which might bring forward bring some private developers (of technologies such as maglev or street cars) willing to finance a large part of the project themselves and then getting repaid.
Pursuing private partnerships can get projects done faster, Suarez said, but may end up costing more, because the corporations would want to be repaid with interest, and that means they will want some guaranteed source of funding.
That's lacking at the moment, on either state or local levels.
Suarez points out that the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust has passed a resolution requesting that the half-penny sales tax be returned to its original purpose of transit expansion within the next three or five years, but there's no hard confirmation that this will happen, only a pro-forma budget projection.
If it did happen, it could add about $100 million a year to transit expansion, which would translate into more than $1 billion in bonding capacity.
Rumors Swirl about BayLink
Meanwhile, County Hall is abuzz about why Florida Department of Transportation has decided to step back from its commitment to manage BayLink's application for federal funding. Several rumors say that there's a problem with Miami Beach's idea of funding its own light-rail or street car line to connect with the Miami line around 5th Street.
On Tuesday afternoon, Beach Mayor Philip Levine did not respond to requests for comment; he was seen on a CNN news show talking about the Indiana primary.
FDOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment. District Secretary Gus Pego, who notified the county of the state's withdrawal, has retired and is going to work for a major highway contractor.