Aggressive list of projects could reshape downtown Miami
By Catherine Lackner
To make sure their priorities "get to the head of the line," Miami's Downtown Development Authority members are vowing to take a more aggressive role in advocating the area's master plan to government agencies.
The Downtown Transportation Master Plan, which will be crafted from a study cooperatively funded by the City of Miami, the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Florida Department of Transportation, will serve as the rationale for traffic improvements. Among those will be two-way conversions of 12 streets, improvements along the Miami River, more pedestrian walkways, Flagler Street corridor improvements, a tunnel from the Port of Miami to Watson Island and a light rail connection to Miami Beach.
"This is a big, big deal," said Johnny Winton, authority chairman and Miami commissioner. The task force has put together a computer model "and looked at every single parcel of land downtown and how it might be used 20 years from now, with car trips, people trips and all that jazz," he said.
"This should help to get things done," said Frank Baron, Metropolitan Planning Organization project manager for the downtown plan.
The group formulated three downtown scenarios: a "base case" that projects the future if the status quo persists, an "enhanced" scenario that assumes employment and residential growth; and a "visionary" scenario in which best development practices are followed and there is significantly increased investment.
Whichever comes to fruition in 20 years, "We want to have transportation infrastructure in place that's responsive to that or we will continue to stumble in the future," Mr. Baron said.
Pushing downtown priorities forward is important because Miami-Dade County probably will place a half-penny or penny tax increase on the November ballot, said Jimmy Morales, Miami-Dade County commissioner and authority board member.
"If there's going to be a pot of money, everybody in the county is going to be fighting over it. The MPO's going to have their booklet out - they're not going to wait until the last minute," to put the preferred scenario out to the public. "We lost last time because people couldn't visualize the program."
After 2003, the next cycle for federal funding occurs in 2010, he said, so county authorities are motivated to attempt a tax increase next year. The tax increase would serve as the local match necessary to qualify for federal funds.
But, "There's a disconnect between land-use and transportation priorities," said board member Jeffrey Bercow. "If you look at the money, it's distributed equally around the county," which is in conflict with Eastward Ho! and other infill-growth campaigns.
"The growth is occurring around the periphery," Mr. Baron said, causing transportation improvements to be made along suburban commuting routes rather than in the urban core.
"You're funding the infrastructure so the growth is occurring there," Mr. Bercow shot back.
"It's an issue of political will," Mr. Winton said. "It's pure politics. We need to generate the political will to go and get more money for downtown."
He urged authority board members to attend meetings of the downtown task force, which are held on an "as needed" basis. There will probably be four more meetings before the plan is completed, Mr. Baron said.
"We have to make sure they're working with the correct assumptions, because if you make the wrong assumptions," Mr. Winton said, "you're going to get wrong answers coming out."