Growth projections revive talks on dedicated transportation funds
By Victor Cruz
The updating of traffic projections by Miami-Dade's planning organization is prompting its members to discuss the need for a dedicated funding source for transportation that could be matched by federal dollars.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which oversees the county's 20-year transportation master plan, anticipates severe traffic congestion by 2025, according to its most recent update released last week.
"Eventually, if we grow at the predicted levels, there's no way to avoid that low level of service. And without transit you have gridlock," said Commissioner Jimmy Morales, a governing board member for the organization.
Unlike many large cities around the country, said Miami City Commissioner Art Teele, also a board member, Miami is one of the few that does not have a dedicated source of funds for transportation.
Without it, he said, the county cannot qualify for matching federal dollars.
"We are losing millions every year," said Commissioner Teele, who pressed the organization to lead the charge in assessing all possible sources of funds to produce a dedicated source from a smorgasbord of different revenue streams.
Mr. Teele said he fears the county, pressured by fallout from a regional transportation summit planned for Nov. 1 and sponsored by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, would adopt a "quick fix" measure instead of taking the first steps toward a long-term commitment to find dedicated funding.
Mr. Teele said he would lead the charge in Miami to make parking surcharge revenues a source of funds.
Money from the surcharge is in limbo while the Florida Supreme Court decides whether to uphold a ruling that the surcharge is unconstitutional. City officials said the law creating the surcharge, initially conceived as a way of bailing the city out of an economic crisis, can be rewritten.
A final decision on the surcharge's constitutionality is not expected until summer, Mr. Teele said.
He said that is just one example of an over-arching strategy he envisions where municipalities in the county chip into a trust with the understanding they will get something back.
Time, Mr. Morales said, is ticking away on any initiative because the nearest federal funding cycle that could grant matching funds is in 2003.
According to Assistant County Manager Steve Spratt that means the county has until the end of 2002 to have own funding in place that could be matched equally by the federal government. If the county misses that window it would have to wait until 2009 for another try because federal transit appropriations are awarded on a six-year cycle.
Mr. Spratt said competition for the matching dollars has become stiffer because other cities have caught on to the idea.
For an area ranked in the top 10 in terms of the worst traffic, Miami is noticeably lacking in not having a dedicated funding source, Mr. Spratt said.
Meanwhile the 2025 plan outlined by the planning organization, which Director Jose Mesa calls "more a Chevy than a Cadillac," calls for $15.2 billion in transit improvements with only $11.2 billion in anticipated revenues.
Board members were given a preview of the plan last week by hired consultants.
The 20-year master plan must be updated every three years and gain board approval in order to maintain eligibility for federal funds. It is scheduled to be voted on Nov. 8.