County planners revamp plans for transportation spending
By Shannon Pettypiece
Nearly a year into collection of a half-penny sales tax earmarked for transportation, Miami-Dade County planners are rethinking how to spend the millions of dollars they expect in the next 30 years.
County officials have put together a 30-year spending plan for mass-transit projects which maps out when and how certain projects will be implemented.
"This is a starting place on where we are and will help us better determine where we need to go," said John Cosgrove, chairman of the voter-mandated watchdog group, the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust, that oversees spending of the tax.
As of last month, more than $92 million had been collected from the tax and $240,119 in interest had been earned on the revenue since the tax on most purchases started in January. So far, the only disbursements have been for $18.4 million to various municipalities.
The financial outline, a working document to be revised annually, incorporates an increase in county transit funds to supplement the tax revenue and state and federal funds.
Beginning next year, the county plans to increase its contribution to transportation projects an average 3.5% annually. For the past 17 years, its contribution increase has averaged 1% a year.
"Our 30-year maintenance of effort can't stay flat," County Manager George Burgess said.
The revised plan calls for several transit fare increases in the next 30 years, starting with a 25-cent hike in 2007 and 50-cent increases in 2012, 2017 and 2022. The county has not increased fares in 12 years - which Mr. Burgess said is "highly unusual even for transit agencies with dedicated funding sources."
Pending approval by the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization and availability of federal and state funds, the 30-year plan sets a new timetable for Metrorail extensions. The accelerated program affects the following Metrorail plans:
East-west corridor extension from Florida International University to a proposed transportation hub by Miami International Airport to open in 2012, more than 11 years ahead of last year's schedule.
East-west corridor extension from the Earlington Heights Metrorail station to the transit hub to open in 2012, three years ahead of last year's schedule.
Port of Miami extension to open in 2017, compared with the previous schedule of beyond 2023.
North corridor extension to the county line to open in 2012, four years ahead of last year's schedule.
Projects that will be pushed back to construction-start dates after 2028 include:
Northeast corridor extension of Metrorail from the airport to Douglas Road.
Metrorail extension south to Florida City.
In addition to Metorail improvements, the county has set a more gradual schedule for implementation of additional bus miles promised to voters and decided that 1,000 fewer buses will be needed to increase service to 43.4 million miles a year.
Last month, 6.7 million people used Metrorail, 14.3 million used the light-rail Metromover that loops through Miami and 64.5 million used the county's bus system, with all modes generating $3.2 million in fares.
The revised economic plan includes costs that have occurred since the plan was formed a year ago - a labor contract with transit employees, an increase in bus prices, security and $100 million needed to replace Metrorail and Metromover cars by 2020.
Several assumptions made during initial planning for the tax money have not panned out.
Last year's plan assumed municipalities would contribute part of their 20% cut of the tax to countywide projects or bus routes. But municipalities expect revenues from the tax to pick up the tab.
The financial timetable is based on assumption that may not play out over the next year. Officials are already considering dropping 24-hour Metrorail service because of low ridership in off-hours, which would have an impact on the current financial outline.
"If we are adding services that prove to be unused the services should be dropped," Mr. Burgess said. "We are going to run this like a business."
A transit study is under way for next year's assessment of the spending plan by South Florida University's Center for Urban Transportation Research to determine how to effectively channel resources. The study will look to reduce unnecessary miles, reassess where demand is greatest, plan new routes based on demand and develop a marketing campaign.