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What to know before the SMART meetings this week

If you ever complain about the traffic in Kendall, listen up, because there are some big changes happening there. This is the second round of public meetings in Kendall to gather opinions on how to build out one of the six corridors of the SMART plan. It stretches from from Kendall Drive to the Dadeland North Metrorail Station.

 

“Whatever you choose, the entire SMART plan will affect your future if you live, work, or vacation in Dade County,” wrote local transit activist Stephen Hamilton, in an e-mail to The New Tropic. “If you don’t shape it now, then in a few years you will complain about how bad public transit is while sitting in the back seat of an Uber ride…”

If you don’t know about the SMART plan, I’ll recap.

Way back in 2002, you, Miami-Dade County voters, approved a half-cent tax to improve transit. Now, almost 15 years later, we’re finally seeing some action. Last April, the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization endorsed the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit (SMART) Plan.

The SMART plan is supposed to make SIX rapid transit corridors — the technology of which hasn’t been decided on yet. Each could be bus rapid transit, light rail, or even more Metrorail. They’ll figure out what type of technology to use after conducting studies, considering finances, and soliciting public opinion.

That third bit is where you come in. The Florida Department of Transportation has scheduled three workshops this week to gather your feedback on the first line in the works: Kendall. (Here are all six, in case you’re interested)

A presentation will be made at the beginning of the meeting, and you can read this piece or this piece to prepare also. If you go, here are a few other things you should think about.

Funding

The total SMART plan would cost $6 billion to build out, and about $1 million a day for operation. The plan would partially be funded by the half-cent tax, which generates about $250 million a year, but that’s obviously not nearly enough. There will also be federal and state funding.

The Miami Herald recently reported that Mayor Carlos Gimenez suggested a rise in property taxes or sales taxes to pay off the bill. But most are not down with that idea – the last time the county raised taxes to cover transit, this happened. (TLDR: While new things like Metrorail’s extension to the airport, free municipal trolleys, and free Metromover were funded by the tax revenue, the major new rail lines never happened.) TBD how we’re going to afford it. Editor’s note: This paragraph was updated to correctly reflect what the half-cent tax was used to fund.

Technology

There are a couple of different options for this corridor. There’s bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail transit (LRT), heavy rail transit (HRT), and Metrorail at-grade (powered by overhead lines). Here’s what each of those mean:

Bus rapid transit: A section of the road completely reserved for bus use, with a minimum length of 1.9 miles. Example: TransMilenio in Bogota, Colombia. We wrote about the bus rapid transit proposal for South Dade here.

Light rail transit: This is an electric train either above or on street level that’s a lighter vehicle than a subway or a metro, and with fewer cars which can carry about 250 people in each car attached in a row of two or more. Example: DART in Dallas, TX

Heavy rail transit: This is an electric train either above or on the street that’s a longer string of cars and can carry more people (about 1,500 at the max) than a light rail system. So it can carry more people, but it’s also slower to start and slower to stop. Example: The subway in New York or our current Metrorail.

Metrorail at-grade with overhead lines: This is exactly what it sounds like. The Metrorail would be at street level, on a rail, powered with lines overhead. It would look kind of like a mix between parts of Chicago’s Brown Line and San Francisco’s streetcars.

The SMART Plan will bring the biggest transit changes Miami has seen in decades. Public input and a study will help decide which one they go with, so if you’ve got an opinion, be at the meeting.

If you can’t make it you can let FDOT know how you really feel at this contact form.