Transit officials ask chamber to help gain federal funds
By Tom Harlan
Top transportation officials asked the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce at the chamber's goals meeting Friday to be an advocate for improving trade and travel.
Miami-Dade Transit officials asked the chamber to join them in asking for more federal dollars to build infrastructure to catch up with South Florida's growing population.
Road congestion is a growing problem, former chamber chairman Allen Harper said, adding that the number of cars in South Florida is growing 20% faster than the number of people.
Miami-Dade Transit has bought aerodynamic buses and improved bus shelters to encourage citizens to take public transportation instead of driving, said Roosevelt Bradley, director of the agency.
The agency wants to build and extend park-and-ride operations, he said, because current facilities fill early in the morning.
The chamber can help Miami Dade Transit keep up with growth, Mr. Bradley said, by being an advocate to obtain federal funds to build infrastructure such as the Metrorail's Orange Line, a three-project extension of Metrorail that is to extend north-south and east-west in 2012 and 2014.
The Florida Department of Transportation is to fund 25% of the cost of the north and east-west corridors if the federal government agrees to pay 50% of the projects' cost, Mr. Bradley said. The remaining 25% would come from the county's 0.5% sales tax. The state provided $100 million for the project last spring. The People's Transportation Plan is to allocate $240 million.
County aviation officials asked the chamber to urge federal agencies to provide more inspectors and funds for explosive-detection systems.
The department needs additional immigration, customs and agriculture inspectors, said Miguel Southwell, the department's assistant director of business development. Miami International Airport has some of the highest wait times for passengers in the US, he said, and businesses bringing food and vegetables into Miami are faced with a short supply of 20 inspectors. Companies such as FedEx can be inspected only on Tuesdays and Fridays, so they must plan deliveries around those days.
The aviation department also needs explosive-detection systems, he said, which federal regulations require for checking baggage. The department has received $25 million, he said, but would need four times that to install inline detection systems that check baggage on a conveyor belt to the plane.
The current system requires passengers to have their bags checked by airport personnel and then carried to a federal inspector to run through a detection system.
The department also wants the chamber to lobby for funds for a new air-traffic control tower for Opa-locka Airport, Mr. Southwell said.
Port of Miami officials asked the chamber to take a stronger advocating role for construction of a tunnel to ease traffic congestion in and out of the seaport.
About $100 million was proposed for spending on construction of a tunnel in 2018 in a General Obligation Bond issue approved in November by Miami-Dade County voters. A tunnel would help the port stay competitive for cargo and cruise business by easing traffic, especially for truckers carrying cargo, according to industry officials.
The importance of a tunnel has been discussed for five years, said Port of Miami Director Charles A. Towsley, but time is running out as ships can choose to go to other ports, cutting into the $12 billion industry.
The movement of goods through the area by sea, rail and trucks make the port the county's second-largest economic generator, Mr. Harper said. "This issue needs to be something settled this year."
Not every transportation agency came to the chamber for help. Miami-Dade Expressway Authority officials asked to be left alone.
The state-sanctioned, locally administered public agency responsible for the county's five major expressways was created in a 1989 summit meeting to improve transportation and has operated well on its own, said Servando Parapar, executive director of the authority.
The authority is self-sustaining, he said, and receives about 97% of its income from tolls on four of the expressways.
Authority officials are executing a five-year work program, he said, that is to include more than $600 million in construction to improve the expressways.
Members of the chamber's transportation committee moved to take an advocacy role to safeguard the authority's independence.
Mr. Southwell said county aviation officials would like to work more with the chamber on business development initiatives such as acquiring new airlines and encouraging foreign businesses to relocate to the area.
"If 9/11 proved anything, it's that transportation is essential to this community's economy," he said. "It drives the occupants to the hotels. It drives the trade.
"Transportation as a structure is essential for this community, given that its brand is international trade and tourism."