Mayor Penelas wants to add metropolitan planners to regionalism effort
By Jaime Levy
Regional planning and transportation leaders are considering formation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization to augment a proposed Regional Transportation Authority at the urging of Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas.
The mayor proposed that once Miami-Dade's Metropolitan Planning Organization is restructured, the region should seek authority from the legislature "to replicate the efforts of the Miami-Dade County Metropolitan Planning Organization at the regional level."
He suggested the regional body be responsible for transportation planning, budgeting and related policy development, and also suggested a possible configuration for the group.
The recommendations came in the midst of tri-county discussions about the direction of regional transportation. At a Jan. 11 summit, members of the Regional Transportation Organization agreed to spearhead plans for establishing a Regional Transportation Authority. It also produced a list of "do-able deeds" that the group wanted to see complete 100 days from the event.
The Regional Transportation Organization has been working toward that deadline, by which time it promised to outline a rough plan for an authority - something that would provide a framework for a proposal to legislators.
Since the summit, there have been several meetings of regional politicians and transit heads to hammer out recommendations. Directors of Miami-Dade Transit, Broward County Transit, Palm Tran and Tri-Rail expect to meet at the end of the month with the directors of each county's transportation planning authority.
Dennis Newjahr, director of planning and capital development for Tri-Rail and a liaison for the Regional Transportation Organization, said he is composing a "white paper" to lay out a tentative implementation plan for an authority - a document he said will be finished by mid-March. If the idea of a regional authority were accepted, he said, that organization would function as a planner, and the Regional Transportation Organization would be the operator.
Perry Maull, executive director of Palm Tran, said the transit agencies were drawing ideas from other regions' systems. He said that by forming a regional transportation authority, the tri-county area could gain the political clout of comparable regions when it comes to state and federal funding.
For example, he said, the area's four transit agencies could be in Washington this week to lobby for funding.
"We go in as four different transit systems," Mr. Maull said. "We try to coordinate, but that guy in Denver can talk for all six counties. We don't have that kind of clout. It's the same thing at the state level. It would put us on a playing field with the biggest systems in the country when we go for funds. I don't think we do well in competing for either federal or state funds."
Although Broward County's public and private sectors have approved a regional agency, Broward County Commission Chair Lori Parrish said the idea of a regional body would take too much away from local interests.
"If that were the suggestion, we wouldn't pass it in Broward," she said. "That would never fly here. We have regional planning councils."
"There's definitely a need for regional transportation," said Bob Roth, director of Broward County's mass transit division. "As long as the makeup of the different boards gives representation to the three counties, I feel the people representing the counties will fight for their rights and things will work out."
Realtor Allen Harper, a member of the Regional Transportation Organization board, said he agreed.
"There is resistance to overcome," Mr. Harper said. "We don't want to dump all the local plans. A lot of give and take has to happen.
"The RTA we're initially proposing doesn't replace any of the three transit systems. It augments them to make it seamless between the counties. Miami-Dade still needs its dedicated source. People who say we're going to lose localism don't understand what the RTA is about."