South Miami-Dade Busway may be converted into a highway with toll express lanes

Officials plan to vote on a controversial plan to convert South Miami-Dade’s Busway into a highway with toll express lanes.

Officials plan to vote on a controversial plan to convert South Miami-Dades Busway into a highway with toll express lanes.

Officials plan to vote on a controversial plan to convert South Miami-Dade's Busway into a highway with toll express lanes.

(MIAMI HERALD)   For years, motorists in South Miami-Dade have longed to drive on the two-lane bus road on the west side of the chronically congested South Dixie Highway.

Now they might get their wish if county commissioners and other local elected officials approve a proposed plan to convert the Busway into — among other alternatives — a four-lane highway with express toll lanes where private vehicles would share the road with buses. The revenue would then be used to fund the cash-strapped county transit agency.

The July 23 vote by commissioners and mayors who are members of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization would enable the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to obtain a detailed study on ways to convert the Busway.

It would bring dramatic change to the Dadeland-to-Florida City roadway, which was built to encourage motorists to take buses that travel more quickly because they benefit from green-light priority at intersections.

But the strategy didn’t work out well because Miami-Dade Transit was never able to operate many buses on the roadway. Currently, between 10 to 27 buses per hour during rush periods serving some 20,000 passengers per day use the Busway. At times the north-south roadway is practically empty.

Transit advocates now fear that modifying the Busway to allow private vehicles would further discourage commuters from using public transportation and reward solo drivers.

DIFFERING VIEWS

Katy Sorenson, a county commissioner and MPO member, provided a hint of the looming controversy when at last month’s MPO meeting she urged fellow board members not to take actions that would steer people away from public transit.

”When the issue was brought up a year ago, I had some reservations, because undermining transit is the last thing I would want to do,” she said. “This would not necessarily undermine transit and it could provide a funding mechanism for transit. But I want to make sure that in this effort, transit is priority one and secondarily congestion relief.”

Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, also an MPO member, suggested he was more interested in relieving congestion even if that means allowing private vehicles on a bus-exclusive roadway.

”I would support moving forward,” Gimenez said, alluding to the coming vote on the conversion study. “If it competes with Miami-Dade Transit, so be it.”

The majority of members at the May 28 meeting seemed to support the conversion study, but not all 22 members were present.

OPTIONS

Three possible conversion alternatives were outlined to MPO members in May by an MPO staffer who said the options would be analyzed more in-depth in the Busway study.

Alternatives described by Larry Foutz, the MPO’s transportation systems manager, included:

Leaving the Busway as is, but allowing private vehicles to use it by paying a toll that would be deducted electronically via SunPass accounts.

Adding one or two lanes, plus flyover bridges at certain or all intersections to ensure faster travel times for buses and toll-paying private vehicles.

Building a four-lane elevated highway, moving traffic at expressway speeds along a totally rebuilt Busway from Mowry Drive in Homestead to the Dadeland South Metrorail station in Kendall.

Making no changes to the roadway and adding toll-paying traffic would cost almost nothing, Foutz said, but the option would only allow no more than 5,000 vehicles per day to use the facility and would likely slow the buses.

The other alternatives would add more vehicles to the roadway and range in cost from $228 million to $1.8 billion.

The most expensive, what Foutz called the ”Taj Mahal” of the options, would be the elevated expressway-style alternative.

Under any option, Foutz said, toll rates would be relatively high because officials want to keep demand as low as possible to maintain fast travel times.

TOLL RATES

Tolls, in anticipated 2030 dollars, would range from $11.25 to $12.75 for travel from one end of the Busway to the other.

Depending on the toll rate and number of toll-paying vehicles, revenue would range between $11 million and $37 million per year.

The Busway was built along an old Florida East Coast railroad corridor that the Florida Department of Transportation acquired in 1988. Subsequently, the right-of-way ownership was transferred to Miami-Dade County.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/miami-dade/story/1088397.html

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