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Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 9:29 PM
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Feds deal blow to Miami's Metrorail expansion

North route is dealt setback

Federal transit analysts raised serious questions about Miami-Dade's plan for a Metrorail expansion to the Broward County line.

By LARRY LEBOWITZ
llebowitz@MiamiHerald.com

Miami-Dade Transit's proposed Metrorail North Corridor extension up Northwest 27th Avenue to the Broward County border is about to suffer a massive setback.

Federal regulators will announce next week that the North Corridor will no longer qualify for up to $700 million in matching construction funds.

''As it stands now, they would not recommend it to Congress for funding,'' said Assistant County Manager Ysela Llort. ``We have to turn it around.''

After giving the project a ''medium'' rating last year, the Federal Transit Administration will downgrade it to ''medium-low'' -- branding it unworthy of federal funds. Llort described the downgrade as ''a setback, but not a fatal blow'' to a rail plan that has become a rallying point in Miami-Dade's black community for a quarter-century.

Federal analysts say the county hasn't set aside enough money to maintain and modernize the existing Metrorail and bus system -- especially after the new rail corridors come on-line after 2014.

They also believe the county's long-range financial forecasting is unrealistic. One of the tricks that they rejected: Transit boosted its revenues on paper by promising to raise systemwide fares nine times in the next 18 years.

While they ripped the Transit agency as a whole, the federal analysts did not slam technical merits, ridership forecasts or cost-effectiveness of the North Corridor.

It is unclear, at this point, how much the downgrade will delay the aggressive schedule that leaders have been promising to would-be Metrorail riders in North-Central Dade and southwest Broward.

`TERRIBLE NEWS'

The county had been aiming to win matching federal funds by 2009, start construction in 2010 and open the 9.5-mile extension, with seven new stations, by late 2014.

Several county sources said the downgrade could push the timetable back six months to a year -- and maybe longer if they can't persuade the analysts to restore last year's higher rating.

''It's terrible news,'' said Marc Buoniconti, a leader of the citizens watchdog group that oversees county spending of the half-cent sales tax for transit approved by voters in 2002. ``It sets us back how many years on the North? It puts our proposal on the bottom of the stack.''

Buoniconti, however, wasn't surprised by the news out of Washington. He called the county's financial projections ``flawed and inconsistent.''

``It's always been a house of cards ready to fall down.''

Like Buoniconti, federal regulators called Transit to task for balancing the long-range financial plans with unrealistic revenue assumptions -- including 50-cent fare increases in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and then 25-cent hikes every two years through 2025.

The regulators' skepticism is well founded: Reluctant county commissioners have raised fares only once since 1991. And the three 50-cent fare increases through 2013 would mean a 100 percent increase over today's fare.

CRITICAL TIME

This is not new bookkeeping trickery. For several years, Transit has boosted its supposed revenues in long-range planning documents with multiyear fare hikes that never went before commissioners -- and were never approved.

The downgrade comes at a critical time for the North Corridor.

Mistrust is already high in a community that was promised the original Metrorail line in the late 1970s, only to discover that county leaders secretly shifted it west to Hialeah at the eleventh hour.

Last fall, commissioners who represent communities along the corridor, repeatedly pressed new Transit Director Harpal Kapoor to publicly reaffirm that the North Corridor was the agency's No. 1 priority. He did.

Salvage business owner Terence Waldron, who has co-chaired a North Corridor advisory panel since 1996, said the conspiracy theories are already raging.

''It's going to be chaos in the streets,'' said Waldron, who owns a family salvage business on the corridor. ''There are certain elements on the outside [of Transit] who say that certain elements on the inside are trying to kill'' the North Corridor.

MAYOR'S REACTION

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez insists the county ``remains committed to the North Corridor project.''

''We will continue to work with the FTA to find a way to fund, design and build this much-needed project which is so important to our community,'' Alvarez said in a statement.

A formal announcement is set for Tuesday in Washington when the Federal Transit Administration releases its annual rating of hundreds of subway, train and commuter rail proposals that are vying for a limited pool of matching federal money.


Below is the alignment of the North Corridor with the top of the map being the Broward County boundary & the Dolphins stadium and the bottom merging with the current Metrorail system in the dotted blue line:



This is a serious setback for the county even though there were questions about ridership numbers. The route would have served Miami Dade Community College which has tens of thousands of students as well as the Dolphins Stadium and commuters from south Broward county. The county already owns the right of way too... I swear I don't understand the logic of the Feds sometimes!
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 9:37 PM
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Boy the Feds are really at it this week. About as anti-rail transit as it gets. This decision for Miami comes a few days after they shocked Virginia & DC area officials with their rating of medium-low for the region's expansion of the Metro system out to Dulles International Airport. We really absolutely need to get a Democratic president because it's clear that in Mary Peters, Bush has installed a person who is unwilling to move rail transit forward in this country. She apparently is someone who is highly supportive of private investment over federal investment which probably explains the sudden turn around in financial backing for rail projects such as this one in Miami and DC's Silver Line.
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  #3  
Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 9:54 PM
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Ohio Guy I was unaware about the Dulles airport denial....wow I can't believe they are denying a proven system like that. I think you are right that it's going to take a Democratic administration to get rail funding for these projects.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 11:33 PM
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...yes, its going to take a Democratic Administration and for the public to get behind mass transit and insist on funding it.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 12:38 AM
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I think it's more about inconsistencies in the report, which made it look like an attempt by the transit agency to fabricate a higher rating this year, after last years downgrade to "medium." The FTA caught them red-handed and as a result, downgraded it - the opposite the transit agency was hoping for. Or more accurately, the FTA announced they would announce the downgrade later this week. That could be a sign that they will give the transit agency this time to try to correct these inconsistencies in the report to the FTA's satisfaction. It seems the FTA is seriously in doubt about the long-term sustainability of the system.

I think the FTA simply wants an accurate report and a well thought-out system-wide plan for sustaining a successful system. The FTA has publicly announced that they would prefer to endorse and fund higher budget projects, over projects which have been stripped-down in order to lower costs, at the sacrifice to the functionality and sustainability required for a successful system.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 2:57 AM
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Sweet Jesus that would have been a great line. I have family in both Miramar and Carol City and they would have used this all the time. I am not very upset that this they did not fund this line. It would have great ridership numbers if it went through.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 4:26 AM
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Miami's rail doesn't even have high ridership does it?
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 6:34 AM
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Duh. Don't you know our tax dollars should be spent making weapons instead of improving lives?
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 8:43 PM
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On Wiki, it says 58,300.
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Old Posted Feb 3, 2008, 10:31 PM
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^ 3rd Quarter 2007 APTA ridership totals are 62,000 daily boardings.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 1:47 AM
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The system is over 20 years old and has 22 miles, yet only about 62,000? How much more riders did they expect with the expansion?
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 2:15 AM
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Trae well that depends since one of the numbers missing from APTA are senior citizens which means anyone over the age of 65 gets to use mass transit for free. This is from the MDTA website:

All senior citizens 65 years and older and Social Security beneficiaries who are residents of Miami-Dade County ride free on transit

The problem with Metrorail has been it's route, the system outside of downtown & the Civic Center has been it's main focal points but doesn't serve the airport or Miami Beach or the northeastern suburbs where most people want to go. It's an a inadequate system for such a dense metro but the bus system carries the majority of transit riders just like Houston.

Having browsed the APTA site I was amazed to see the DART/Dallas system has the same amount of riders even though they have a much larger system in miles(48.6 miles)
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 2:48 PM
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They also use light rail (lower capacity).
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 5:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trae View Post
They also use light rail (lower capacity).
Huh?
Metrorail is as heavy as any other subway or elevated line.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 5:14 PM
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The message is clear: The Bush administration has instructed the FTA to cancel every rail line it can.

Hoping for Federal money? The best you can hope for right now is for your project not to be cancelled outright.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 5:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brickell View Post
Huh?
Metrorail is as heavy as any other subway or elevated line.
I think he meant Dallas'
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 9:31 PM
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^ My fault.

Regarding Metrorail, there's really two parts. The part everyone rides, and the part that exists because of politics. From Civic Center (Jackson Hospital Complex north) would make a fine addition to an established network, but goes nowhere near anyplace most people would want to go. This new line is basically the same. Don't get me wrong, it'd be useful to those that live near it, but the lack of destinations and urban centers there leave much to be desired.

Most stations are not integrated into their neighborhoods and function more as commuter park and ride stations. Some of the stations have seen increased densities and TOD's, but others are stagnating.
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Last edited by brickell; Feb 5, 2008 at 1:22 AM.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 9:36 PM
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Houston had a similar problem with getting federal money for its current expansion, but the feds just asked for another environmental impact report to be done. Metro initially had 1 LRT line w/4 BRT lines, but pushed for having all LRT lines. This caused the feds to step back before granting funding.

I'm not sure of the situation in Miami. However, in Houston this expansion would connect Houston's 4 largest employment centers, which are 3 employment center that are within in a 5 mile radius of downtown. It is vital for the future of our commuter system that the University Line (planned to be LRT) and the Uptown Line (planned to be BRT) are LRT. The Uptown line runs North-South along the Uptown business corridor and the Galleria. The University Line would link the Uptown line to Downtown and the Med Center. However, I believe the other lines' ridership might not justify the Feds backing the east side LRT lines.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 9:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
The message is clear: The Bush administration has instructed the FTA to cancel every rail line it can.

Hoping for Federal money? The best you can hope for right now is for your project not to be cancelled outright.
I shouldn't have been surprised since the Bushies wanted to kill Amtrak a few years ago. ...and I usually don't use emoticons but this is repulsive.
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Old Posted Feb 4, 2008, 11:38 PM
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It kind of makes sense though that they would downgrade this extension.

Lets be honest here. The Miami METRORAIL is a failure in ridership terms. The feds can probably see that the extension will hardly attract any ridership.
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