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Tolls Coming to a Street Near You

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Flickr: JacobEnos
Flickr: JacobEnos

Under the guise of hosting a discussion about the future of mobility in South Florida, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has brought our leading transportation officials together with anti-transit Libertarian Robert Poole to go over their plans to greatly expand toll roads in Miami-Dade County.

Tapped by our soon-to-be-one-term governor as one of his transportation advisors, Poole has finished an 18 month 'study' of how to improve transportation in South Florida. The reason for the study, according to a press release, is that:

[The 2035 Long Range Plan] puts a major emphasis on alternatives to driving -- transit, bicycling and walking. In fact, of the $58 billion available for transportation between 2015 and 2035, the plan devotes 62 percent to improving and operating various forms of transit. Unfortunately, if the plan is implemented as written, by 2035 a smaller fraction of all trips (2.6 percent) will be made via transit than the 2.9 percent made via transit today.

Fair enough. That might be true, but that has more to do with the over reliance on BRT over rail transit. The conclusions made by the report are nothing less than preposterous for transportation and urban planners, pointing to 'managed lanes' as the panacea to our mobility challenges. (Insert gag here).From the press release:

The plan includes four key components:

  1. A region-wide network of expressway managed lanes (MLs) like those on I-95, encompassing 302 route-miles and 1,117 lane-miles;
  2. Upgrades for 14 key arterials (107 route-miles) with underpasses at major signalized intersections, an innovation we call "managed arterials" (MAs);
  3. Premium bus rapid transit (BRT) as in the current long-range plan, but operating mostly on the "virtually exclusive busways" made possible by the network of MLs and MAs, rather than on politically dubious bus-only lanes;
  4. A series of system operational improvements, including extensive expressway ramp metering and further expansion of traffic signal coordination.

These four components tell a striking story of the city that Poole (and his cohorts at FDOT and MDX) would have us inhabit. On the one hand Poole contends our current Long Range Transportation plan (with its reliance on BRT) is not going to be successful, yet his plan relies on the exact same BRT system (as stated above). He proposes that MDX and the governor create tolled highways out of major arterials (like US1 and Flagler), utilizing overpasses and underpasses that will be costly to build and blight the city, to create revenue AND 'premium bus rapid transit' corridors. Unfortunately, bus rapid transit does not work on highways where folks cannot easily get on/off. The best BRT systems in the world run at grade, in a dedicated lane, and in the city center. This plan is doomed to fail because it views transit as an afterthought.

The idea of using transit as a way to sweeten an otherwise bad idea is not new. Transit Miami has been reporting for some time about MDXs plan to run a highway parallel to US1, under the dubious assumption that it will greatly improve transit service. (Meanwhile, low cost transit improvements that would greatly improve service, like signal coordination, go unimplemented because of their impact on local traffic.)

There is so much to dislike about this plan that it is hard to know where to start. First the idea of greatly expanding tolls on what Poole calls "urban toll expressways" (ie. neighborhood streets) will create highways in places where we are trying to lower speeds and increase pedestrian, bicycle and transit use. These highways will be in direct competition with transit, and rather than be subsidized by the government, the costs will be borne by the citizens of South Florida. Already saddled with high tax and few mobility options, the governor and MDX will double down on a failed transportation system by taxing residents, so that they can in turn build more highways! The Ponzi scheme developed by MDX to build and toll and build some more will be spread all over the land.

I am all for bus rapid transit, but it should not be used as a chaser for the bitter pill MDX and the governor are trying to push down our throats. We need to continue to build our rail network and then we can start to feed into it with BRT. If officials want to create bus-only lanes, the way that every other city in America is doing, great! Close a lane of Bird Road, Coral Way, 8th street... etc. and have BRT running to the heart of our metropolis in its own dedicated lane; but don't start building highways all over the city. It's time for MDX to wake up and realize that mass transit is the future of our region -- not highways. If it doesn't evolve, it might find that there are a great many people, myself included, who don't see a reason for it to exist anymore. We want transit -- not tolls.