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Miami Metrorail turns 20

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from: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/8717870.htm

Metrorail, at 20, approaches a crossroads

Twenty years down the line, Metrorail boosters admit that the mass transit system has a long way to go to achieve its original goal -- going where everyone in Miami-Dade County needs to go.


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Bob Wilcosky remembers that first ride on Metrorail as if it were yesterday. The sleek new trains, the curious crowds drawn by free fares, the exhilaration of that first crossing high above the Miami River.

Twenty years later, the trains are showing their age, the novelty is long gone, and daily ridership has remained fairly flat -- and well below the ambitious initial predictions of 200,000.

But for Wilcosky, the daily commute still provides little moments of pleasure. Every time the train blows past gas-guzzling SUVs stacked up on South Dixie Highway, he laughs to himself.

''It's horrible to admit it, but I do get a vicarious thrill as we blow past them sitting in their cars and trucks and SUVs on South Dixie,'' Wilcosky said.

``Especially now, with gas at $2 a gallon.''

Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of Metrorail, the $1 billion, elevated rail system that stretches from Kendall to Medley but is still years away -- and hundreds of millions of dollars -- from its initial promise: creating a huge web of lines that link the entire community.


Local leaders feted former Congressman William Lehman, who got most of the federal transit dollars to build the system, and the first generation of retired train conductors with a cake-and-punch reception at County Hall.

Eugene Morrison, a retired conductor, remembered the first day, when his train shut down because of a switch problem.

''We pulled into Coconut Grove station,'' he recalled. ``The train just stopped. I was worried we were never going to get it started again.''

While respecting the past, county commissioners are focusing firmly on a future financed largely by the half-penny sales tax that voters approved in November 2002.

More than 40 miles of new rail lines are being planned along Northwest 27th Avenue to the Broward County line near Pro Player Stadium, west of Miami International Airport toward Florida International University and a light-rail link from downtown to Miami Beach. Estimated cost: $2.6 billion.


On Thursday, there were no signs, balloons or cake on the train platforms.

That lack of promotion is the kind of thing that gets to Wilcosky, a professor emeritus at Miami Dade College's medical campus near the Santa Clara station.

Wilcosky and his colleagues on the Transit Coalition 2020, a volunteer citizens advisory panel, are constantly prodding transit bosses to be more consumer-oriented -- replace the perpetually broken station clocks, unlock station access gates, pick up trash, even landscape some urban areas.

The system carries 48,000 riders daily, only about a fourth of what was predicted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the same time, commissioners continued to support far-flung, rampant residential development into the countryside, far from the billion-dollar rail system they just built.


The original Metrorail line was tailored for the politics and economics of the day. The train runs through several black neighborhoods and turned west toward Hialeah. All of those communities were vital to win a tight bond referendum that helped pay for the system.

Most planners and community leaders acknowledge that the ideal route would have taken the train from South Beach -- then a much poorer, elderly Jewish community -- through Little Havana to the airport.

But the political opposition was steep, and the cost of acquiring hundreds of parcels of already developed land in an urban area would have cost a lot more and taken more time.

It was comparatively easy to develop what has become the most successful segment, south of downtown to Dadeland. All they had to buy: the existing railroad bed from one owner.


Former County Manager Merrett Stierheim, now outgoing school superintendent, who called the Metrorail project his public baptism, remains optimistic as more people seek to move toward downtown Miami.

Metrorail was also supposed to spur ancillary development along the route, shops, homes and offices near the stations to help offset the cost of daily operations.

The joint-venture developments succeeded along the corridor from Dadeland to Coral Gables and Brickell.

But it took a lot longer to gather steam along the northern and inner-city portions. Commissioners will be cutting ribbons at two new affordable-housing apartment complexes today next to the Santa Clara and Allapattah Gardens stations.

Wilcosky said he will still be riding the trains and wondering why people continue to stew in traffic.

``Until we can get people out of the mind-set that they don't have to get out of their cars. . . . ''

His thought trails off. The train rolls on.

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Congrats to MetroRail! I still haven't ridden it yet. I know that one of the planned extensions might replace the busway that goes south of Dadeland.

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Great news for Miami. I'm sure the city would never have been the same without...

Yes, it really was a white elephant when it was built. But I can't imagine Miami without either. It's really helped to spur the the recent development and I think it's probably saved some of these inner burbs from detiorating further than they could have. Miami has grown into the rail line, and more people than ever are starting to embrace it.

I just wish it hadn't taken 20 years.

Here's a .pdf map of all current transit provided by Dade County: http://www.miamidade.gov/transit/images/pd...transit_map.pdf

Coral Gables and Hialeah both have small bus sytems in addition.

Here's the new proposed rail map.


You can get updates on the lins here: http://www.miamidade.gov/trafficrelief/updates_rail.asp

I think everything is still in the study phase. The east-west line will probably come on line first. They've been arguing about actual routes to take but have yet to start procurement.

For other info:



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I almost forgot, The Miami Intermodal Center, which is a big part of the plan is already under construction. It will provide a connection to the airport and high speed rail (hopefully). So at least something is going.

In conclusion, we're way behind where we should be for a city our size, yet so far ahead of other cities that are just no figuring out the need for good mass transit. This will be a long ongoing process, but I hope with the increased density we're seeing that the rail lines will finally get the ridership numbers to convince county, state and federal lawmakers to put more money into and hurry things along. Also, regional transit planning is increasing, and will hopefully unite the 3 county area under one mass-transit umbrella eventually.

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