Bus Rapid Transit has inside track in East-West Corridor
After nearly three decades of studies, local transportation decision-makers are set – again – to choose a mass transit upgrade for a 14-mile commuting route linking West Miami-Dade to Miami International Airport and downtown Miami.
Today (10/22), the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization Governing Board is to vote on a preferred transit mode for the route known as the East-West Corridor.
The board punted on voting in April, but the county recommendation remains the same: bus rapid transit (BRT), including three Metrorail-like elevated stations in the center of SR 836 and nine premium curbside stations on arterial roadways.
Estimated costs for BRT have since risen, but according to Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, whose district the corridor traverses, the plan being considered today is an improvement on past iterations and will better serve residents.
“It’s finally gotten to the place where it’s viable, doable and I think it’s going to work,” he told Miami Today. “When it started, it was in every freaking direction you can imagine. Now I’m proud to say people can be happy something is getting done to what they want.”
Connections in Doral, Miami, Sweetwater and unincorporated Miami-Dade include the under-construction Tamiami Station, Florida International University, Dolphin Station, Dolphin Mall, Flagami, Fontainbleu, Mall of the Americas, Blue Lagoon, Miami Intermodal Center and Government Center.
BRT beat Metrorail and commuter rail, the two other “build” options for the corridor, in travel time, cost, environmental impact and time to build, according to the most recent report by the Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works and consultant WSP.
The project would cost about $418 million to build and up to $25.6 million per year to operate and maintain once both construction phases end. In April, a different version of the plan estimated a roughly $330 million build cost.
But the project would still qualify for federal Small Starts dollars to cover a third of construction costs. The plan assumes another third would come from the state. Miami-Dade would cover the final third and fund operations and upkeep with toll revenues.
Getting the project into the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program “makes it a realistic alternative” for residents, Commissioner Eileen Higgins said earlier this year. Her district also contains part of the route.
“Five years from now, we can say we have it,” she said.
But it could come quicker. From start to finish, county transportation personnel and WSP estimate that the project would take two to three years to build.
A Metrorail extension between the Miami Intermodal Center and Tamiami Station would cost about $2.35 billion, up to $48 million to run yearly and take six to eight years to build.
Commuter rail using existing CSX freight tracks from the Miami Intermodal Center and Dolphin Station and then a Bus Rapid Transit shuttle to Tamiami Station would cost about $1 billion to build over four to five years and up to $33 million per year to operate.
Despite also being the highest-ranked mode in terms of cost-effectiveness, the report still only ranked BRT “medium-low” in the category.
Phase one of BRT construction would cost $265 million and consist of building out two BRT routes. One route would run between Tamiami Station at Southwest Eighth Street and 147th Avenue and the Miami Intermodal Center at Miami International Airport.
The other route would run between Tamiami Station and the Government Center Metrorail station in downtown Miami. Both would include three stops between on the 836 at Northwest 107th, 97th and 87th avenues.
Phase two of construction would cost $153 million and add one more route between the Miami Intermodal Center and Dolphin Station, a park-and-ride transit terminal at NW 117th Place.
In addition to the three 836 stations, other stops along the route include Mall of Americas, Northwest Seventh Street and 62nd Avenue, Blue Lagoon Drive and 60th Avenue and Northwest 57th Avenue and LeJeune Road, among others.
Covered stations on the 836 would feature level platform boarding, air-conditioned vestibules, safety lighting, information panels with arrival and departure information and barrier walls separating the bus lanes from regular vehicular traffic.
Riders would be able to access the elevated stations from below, similar to the way riders access the overhead Metrorail.
Curbside stations on arterial roadways would also have level platform boarding and air-conditioned vestibules, as well as mesh screening “for optimum ventilation and arts in public spaces,” the report says.
Dedicated transit-only lanes on the 836 would run both ways in the center. The county transportation department and WSP recommended a reversible transit-only center lane on Southwest Eighth Street between Tamiami Terminal and Southwest 137th Avenue, the same on Southwest 137th Avenue from Southwest Eighth Street to the 836, and dedicated lanes in each direction from the Mall of Americas to Northwest 52nd Avenue “in addition to existing lanes.”
Frequency on all three routes would be identical, the report says, with weekday services from 5 a.m. to midnight at 15-minute headways, Saturday service from 6 a.m. to midnight at 15-minute headways and Sunday service from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 30-minute headways.
Travel time end-to-end, from Tamiami Station to the Miami Intermodal Center, would be 24 minutes – one minute faster than a Metrorail extension and four minutes quicker than the commuter rail/BRT shuttle option.
Earlier figures from the county and WSP estimated all three routes would serve between 9,610 and 10,680 daily riders. New estimates included in a slideshow to be presented to the transportation planning board today show that BRT on the corridor would serve between 7,000 and 11,000 daily riders.
The upgrade would also subtract about 25,000 to 31,000 daily vehicular trips on the corridor, the report says.
In contrast, Metrorail would serve 19,520 to 23,860 riders and take 53,000 to 65,000 car trips off the road every day. Commuter rail/BRT would perform worst, with just 6,630 to 7,290 riders and a reduction of only 16,000 to 19,500 car trips.
The East-West Corridor is the second-to-last route in the 2016 Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (Smart) Plan to be given a transit upgrade designation, following the South Corridor (“gold standard” BRT), North Corridor (elevated fixed guideway with a preference for rail), Northeast Corridor (commuter rail served by Brightline), and Beach Corridor (elevated rail or automated people mover).
Selection for the Kendall Corridor, for which BRT and Metrorail are also being examined, lags behind them all.
If the board chooses BRT for the East-West Corridor, the county expects federal approval by fall 2021 after required environmental studies and hearings end.