New mobility world coming to South Dade Transitway
Work to convert the South Dade Transitway into a Bus Express Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor could begin by June – if Miami-Dade is able to surmount a few remaining funding and design hurdles in the interim, county Transportation Director Alice Bravo says.
The estimated $300 million project – which includes building 14 weather-controlled BRT stations and outfitting 45 intersections with crossing gate arms and traffic signal preemption, among other upgrades – is now 66% funded with equal state and local dollars.
The remaining federal contribution, Ms. Bravo told commissioners in a transportation committee last month, awaits approval of a funding application that the county submitted Aug. 23, for which it expects a response early next year.
“We’re hoping we get rated here in the next few months and are eligible for a funding grant agreement,” she said.
Each 120-foot, “architecturally iconic and memorable” BRT station, she said, will be “expandable and flexible to meet future needs [of] neighborhoods” and include center platform boarding with large overhead cooling fans, off-board fare collection, air conditioned vestibules, closed-circuit TV security, WiFi and basic amities like bike racks and benches.
Existing shared-use paths for bikes, scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles will remain, as will emergency vehicle access to the 20-mile transitway.
The county is seeking a design-build contract for the project and expects by December to request proposals based on input from the state and feedback from Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Homestead and Florida City, all of which the corridor serves.
“We hope to be back at commission awarding that contract early next year, in the first quarter, and then we’d move into design and construction,” she said, adding that final designs aren’t necessary to begin work on some parts of the project. “They identify early elements that we approve and then start construction on those elements while they’re working on the rest of the design, so we should see activity there by mid next year.”
Ms. Bravo said Mayor Carlos Giménez directed her to look at “cool-looking buses,” preferably electric, and that her department is now preparing a procurement for such vehicles to serve the corridor by the time work there finishes in 2022.
Lawmakers, leaders and a public school board member on the county transportation board voted 15-7 for BRT on the transitway Aug. 30, 2018, after eliminating from consideration a rail solution and possible Metrorail extension between the Dadeland South Metrorail station and Southwest 344th Street.
The move marked the first time the county had selected a new mass transit solution for one of six corridors identified in the SMART Plan, an initiative launched in 2016 to bring better transit to six key county corridors.
BRT was championed by many, including Mr. Giménez, who said the service will be like “rail on rubber tires” while costing much less to serve the area’s ridership.
Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Dennis Moss, whose districts the corridor serves, had led demands for a southern rail extension. They joined Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Coral Gables Vice Mayor Vince Lago and county Commissioners Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan, Xavier Suarez in voting no.
As a caveat to those demanding that the county fulfill a 2002 promise to bring rail to South Dade, the board amended the Aug. 30 item to stipulate that the transitway would be converted for rail once weekday ridership hits 35,000 – a benchmark Ms. Jordan said would never be reached.
“Show me one rail that’s been built across the country [where] they had ridership up to 35,000 people,” she said. “You won’t be able to … because the ridership was already up.”
Less than four months later, the board selected elevated fixed-guideway transit for the SMART Plan’s North Corridor – to date the only other corridor for which a transit upgrade has been chosen – with a preference for rail and potential Metrorail extension between the northernmost Metrorail station and the Broward County line.
Asked by Mr. Moss Sept. 13 to detail how the infrastructure her department planned to add to the South Dade Transitway would accommodate a future conversion to rail there – “We always find a reason why we can’t do something,” he said – Ms. Bravo said that certain upgrades would be needed, like lengthening each station to 330 feet and renovating the central platform so level boarding could continue.
“But what you’re building now,” she said, “in terms of the gate arms, [signal preemption and] station size … all those features remain.”