Express toll lanes may charge into South Dade
By Risa Polansky
Toll lanes may be in store to ease traffic on US 1 in south Miami-Dade and boost transit revenues.
Three scenarios would convert right-of-way for the South Miami-Dade Busway into toll roads and use it for both car and bus traffic, allowing drivers to use the bus corridor to bypass area traffic — for a fee.
Tolls would rise with congestion, like the express toll lanes on northbound I-95. Maximum at peak hours could hit $12.75 in 2030 dollars.
"The managed lanes would allow… tolled private vehicles to bypass areas of severe traffic congestion along US 1," states a Kimley-Horn study commissioned by Miami-Dade's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Both local and express buses now travel the busway, which parallels US 1 from the Dadeland South Metrorail Station to Southwest 344th Street.
Dennis Moss, chair of both county commission and the planning organization, said in seeking the study he aimed to take advantage of excess busway capacity, "take some pressure off of US 1" and generate revenue for county transit in a partnership.
That partnership would be with the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which now operates five local toll roads, including the Dolphin and Palmetto expressways.
With permission from the planning organization, made up of elected leaders countywide, a full-blown authority study would seek public input. The authority could end up funding the project and getting a cut of revenue. Public-private partnerships and bonding are also on the table.
The preliminary study presented to the planning group last week identifies three toll lane scenarios ranging in cost from about $23 million to $1.5 billion:
—Improving signals and signage along the busway, which would accommodate 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles a day and generate about $11 million a year, based on a maximum $12.75 toll to drive its full length.
—Widening the busway and building elevated stations to accommodate 11,000 to 13,000 added vehicles a day and generate about $22 million a year with a maximum $11.25 toll.
—Creating a four-lane elevated section to operate like a freeway and handle 21,000 to 26,000 vehicles a day, generating $37 million a year with a maximum $12.75 toll.
The planning board didn't vote but is to be asked June 25 to include the project in the long-range plan. An in-depth study by the expressway authority would follow.
Several members voiced support, including Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell and county commissioners Katy Sorenson and Carlos Gimenez. Ms. Sorenson said the project is worth pursuing but she'd like to see that "enhancement of transit is priority one, and secondarily congestion relief."
Other members, including supporters, raised concerns. County Commissioner Joe Martinez, a former police officer, cited safety and said any road-level project could end up a waste, impeding east-west traffic and putting civilians in danger. "If you're going to go through it," he advised, "keep your mind on the above grade."
Mr. Gimenez also cited road-level safety, as did North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns, who said "anything other than elevated road crossings — we're just wasting our time."