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South Florida mass transit

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/...st/10516038.htm

Posted on Fri, Dec. 31, 2004

CORAL GABLES

Trolley route stays -- for now

The trolley is a huge success in one part of the city -- and a complete dud in another. The city is trying to find out why.

BY EUNICE SIGLER

[email protected]

Despite few riders and apparently little interest in the Miracle Mile trolley route, Coral Gables leaders voted Tuesday to leave the route in place -- for now.

Over the next few weeks, the city will try different hours and stops in an effort to get more people to ride the trolley that zips along Miracle Mile and Biltmore Way most afternoons.

While the Ponce De Leon route, which runs from the Metrorail station near U.S. 1 to Southwest Eighth Street, gets an average of 2,100 passengers a day, the Miracle Mile route gets an average of only 12 passengers a day.

Recently, the city sent surveys to people who live along the Miracle Mile/Biltmore Way corridor, supposedly the people most likely to use it, but only a handful came back, City Manager David Brown said.

'We tried to encourage meetings with those [homeowners'] associations, with little success,'' he said.

Some people have questioned the wisdom of having the Miracle Mile route run from 3 to 7 p.m., especially with so many eateries on Miracle Mile open for lunch.

They have asked the city to expand the route and to run it all day long, but trolley administrators said they don't have the money to do that now.

They thought, and the city's Traffic Advisory Board agreed, that it would be best to suspend the Miracle Mile route and put that trolley to work alongside the other five trolleys on busy Ponce De Leon Boulevard.

But some commissioners, and a handful of residents, weren't willing to ditch it just yet.

''Nothing really was tried. We now come to the conclusion that it doesn't work, but we never tried. Why not try new things?'' Mayor Don Slesnick asked.

Two people who own condos at the David William Hotel at 700 Biltmore Way said many more of their neighbors would ride that trolley if it started running in the mornings.

Tim Plummer, a traffic consultant the city hired to do the first trolley studies, said the route wasn't thought out well. ''That route was never fully planned and analyzed -- that was ad hoc,'' he said. ``Until we can adequately study it, it's never going to be a success.''

The city has hired experts from the University of Miami to study who uses the trolleys, where they come from, and where they want to go.

City officials will use those study results to make future changes to the trolley system -- and budget for them.

Right now, the city only has about $150,000 of public money invested in the system. The rest of the $2.8 million in purchase and operating costs so far has come from county grants, Florida's Department of Transportation, and Miami-Dade County's half-penny transportation tax.

Commissioners said they would ask Miami-Dade County to help pay for the system in the future.

Another item that generated much debate Tuesday was the public vote on extending the mayor's term from two to four years.

Sentiments on the dais were split, with some commissioners saying it should be up to voters to decide, and others saying the system has worked for decades and there is no need for change.

In the end, they decided that since the proposed change wouldn't take effect until the 2007 election cycle, there was no rush to put it on the Nov. 2 ballot, which is already crowded with the presidential election, state and local races.

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Uh-oh...

Posted on Sun, Jan. 02, 2005

HERALD WATCHDOG METRORAIL

Transit taxes can't meet pledge

The 2002 sales-tax-fortransit campaign promised an expansion of Metrorail, but recent financial analyses show there isn't enough money for most of the project. Miami-Dade leaders are trying to come up with fixes.

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

[email protected]

Miami-Dade Transit cannot afford to build, operate and maintain two-thirds of the Metrorail corridors promised to voters when they approved a half-cent sales tax in 2002, according to internal financial analyses obtained by The Herald.

The revised projections still call for three extensions to the original Metrorail line. But the latest forecasts contain no money for the six other corridors, costing an estimated $3.5 billion. Among them: a connection between downtown and the airport, the Bay Link streetcar between Miami and South Beach and trains to Aventura and Florida City.

''They definitely overpromised, and now all of us are going to have to come together and tell the citizens exactly what we can and can't do with the tax,'' said Marc Buoniconti, chairman of the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, the watchdog group overseeing the program.

The main reasons: fewer prospects for federal money than forecast; an existing deficit not discussed during the campaign; declining fare revenue; and several expensive programs that county commissioners added to the plan.

The latest estimates set the stage for a series of tough policy decisions -- and potentially embarrassing revelations for former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and others who sold the sales tax to voters.

County Manager George Burgess, who inherited the problems, is moving to fix the historic funding woes at Transit and buttress support for the remaining projects. He was not involved in the 2002 tax campaign.

''We probably would have designed it differently and presented it differently,'' Burgess said of the 2002 campaign. ``Absolutely. But we can make this work.''

The emerging transit picture is different from the promised ``New Money, New Projects.''

A NEW PLAN

Controversial proposal would settle old debts

Earlier this week, the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust ratified a controversial Burgess plan that will allow Transit to spend more than $180 million in sales-tax proceeds over six years to settle old deficits, pay debt service on buses purchased before the election and cover other operations.

''This isn't what I voted for,'' Martin Nash, an 83-year-old Kendale Lakes ad executive said after the trust's vote. ``When people start to hear about this, . . . I think this could start a major uprising.''

The new projections estimate that the county can afford three Metrorail projects with a cumulative price tag of $2.3 billion: a two-mile spur from the Earlington Heights station to the airport; a 10-mile east-west segment from the airport to Florida International University; and a nine-mile north corridor along Northwest 27th Avenue.

The six corridors now on hold are the Bay Link streetcar connecting downtown Miami with South Beach; an east-west segment between downtown and the airport; a Kendall express-bus route; and trains from downtown to Aventura, along the expanding Busway to Florida City, and from Coral Gables to the airport.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Faulty forecasts, added amenities derail project

According to dozens of interviews and a review of county records and projections, here is what happened:

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I'm glad you got that one. I was pulling out my hair reading it over the weekend. Notice that it was leeked on a holiday weekend...

At any rate, this is sad news, but not totally unexpected. I think the east west line from dowtown is really the more important line, and it doesn't look like the fund are there for that. That really is a long way off though.

``If we're building during every year of this program, wouldn't we consider that a success? I think that would be a monumental success, not a failure.''

I got to agree with this a little too. By the time these are done, hopefully transit takes on a new life in south florida as people realize how important it is to the city.

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I found it disheartening. I find comfort in knowing that those federal and state matching funds had to secured, and this was the only way to keep them from being diverted elsewhere.

These projects will happen; it will just take a little longer, and when they're complete, we'll be thankful that we didn't do a half-baked job of it.

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Yeah, we're just going to have to wait for these expansions to open up. I for one hope MetroRail plans on updating and remodeling their old 80's style stations. It just wasn't aesthetically pleasing to wait for a train, lol. I had heard that they had secured funds to revamp the trains, and replace alot of the old seating/flooring etc.

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 06, 2005

MIAMI BEACH

Bay Link runs short of cash

Bay Link, a light-rail train system that would connect South Beach to the mainland, faces a new obstacle: There may not be sufficient money for the project.

BY NICOLE WHITE

[email protected]

Bay Link, the controversial light-rail system that won overwhelming support from Miami Beach voters in November, faces a new hurdle. Financial projections from Miami-Dade County Transit, the agency that operates the county's transit system, show insufficient funds for Bay Link and five other transit projects throughout the county.

The news comes despite assurances given to Miami-Dade voters in 2002, when they approved a half-penny sales tax, that there would be a permanent funding source for these projects.

The revelation, detailed in a Sunday Herald story, came as no surprise to many who opposed the project.

''I've been warning everyone from the very beginning that the funding just wouldn't be there,'' said Commissioner Jose Smith, who serves as the city's liaison to the Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO is responsible for planning and overseeing transportation projects.

Mayor David Dermer, perhaps Bay Link's most ardent opponent, said the news confirmed his suspicions.

''I've said all along that this issue was about money and had very little to do about transportation,'' Dermer said.

``This deal was about lobbyists and consultants making money through false promises at the expense of the general public.''

County officials say they can afford to fund just three of the nine projects promised to voters. Among them: a 10-mile east-west segment from Miami International Airport to Florida International University and a nine-mile corridor along Northwest 27th Ave.

While Bay Link ranks fourth on the list of project priorities for the MPO, the funding deficit will make it harder, but not impossible, to get the federal government to consider it for federal funding. Federal funding is necessary for all the projects.

Bay Link was by far the most combative issue to face Beach residents in recent years. Opponents feared the trains, which would shuttle across the MacArthur Causeway, would prove a construction nightmare that would further exacerbate the city's traffic woes.

Supporters saw it as a boon for the city that would truly cement its claim as a true urban center. Despite the financial woes facing the transit authority, Bay Link supporters remain optimistic.

Randall Robinson, a member of the pro-Bay Link group Alliance for Reliable Transit, said the county's financial woes don't spell the end for Bay Link.

''The deciding factor is the federal government and how they rate it,'' said Robinson.

If the federal government doesn't like one or more of the three projects supported by the county, then Bay Link moves up the list of priorities, Robinson said.

''That's what's going to determine the fate of Bay Link,'' he said.

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The lack of money to expand metrorail, as planned, was a blow to my stomach when I first read these articles. What's wrong with taking all of the available money now and building the East-West line from FIU to the MIC and then on to downtown. Then finishing out Baylink. From looking at the proposed routes it looks like these will be the most popular, thus they should be built first.

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Join the party guys . . . check out the Pittsburgh board and the Boston board on transit cutbacks. Pittsburgh came dangerously close to cutting out weekend and latenight transit!

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Posted on Mon, Jan. 10, 2005

Political beat

U.S. CONGRESS

Dade urged to rethink its Metrorail priorities

The South Florida congressman with the most clout to direct federal dollars toward transit projects says he believes Miami-Dade County should prioritize the east-west Metrorail corridor and the Earlington Heights extension to the airport.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who sits on the House transportation committee, said he feels that higher density and ridership potential make the east-west line the best choice to qualify for federal funding.

''It's very important that projects be done where there is greater need, growth, ridership potential, and not increase the girth of the white elephant,'' Diaz-Balart said.

County officials have said that the first new Metrorail extension it will construct will be from Earlington Heights to the airport. They also want to try to get funding for two other Metrorail extensions at once, the east-west line from the airport to Florida International University, and a line heading north to the Broward County border along 27th Avenue.

But Diaz-Balart said the east-west line should take priority.

''The priority projects have to be the ones that have ridership potential, not that are political wish lists,'' he said.

-- OSCAR CORRAL

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 13, 2005

TRANSPORTATION

When accidents happen, S. Florida drivers feel it

South Florida's interstates are so clogged that an accident can cause major tie-ups. And it isn't going to get better, experts say, until more people turn to mass transit.

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

[email protected]

Are you a beleaguered Miami commuter looking for solace after spending two to three hours Wednesday stuck in another hellish parking lot on southbound Interstate 95 after an all-too-common multicar pileup?

Hoping to hear that help is finally on the way?

Better look elsewhere.

''Our roads are so congested that when you have an accident, it blows up,'' said Jesus Martinez, administrator of Miami-based computerized road operations programs for the Florida Department of Transportation. ``We don't have excess capacity. It just takes things that are bad and makes them worse.''

Short of radical measures that would cost untold billions of dollars -- think about double-decking I-95 -- most of the pragmatic fixes would add a lane here and there in areas where bottlenecks routinely occur, like the 79th Street area of Miami.

''Frankly, I'd like to be able to tell people there's a lot more that we can do, but the reality is we can make a tweak here and make a tweak there, but there are some things that we just can't solve,'' said Rory Santana, the DOT's Miami traffic operations engineer.

More than 272,000 vehicles a day travel on some segment of I-95 in Miami-Dade County -- 138,000 of them passing through downtown Miami on a typical weekday.

An estimated 220,000 vehicles a day cross the Broward-Dade border on I-95.

ANOTHER STUDY

The DOT, which will be unveiling ramp metering and 24-hour high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on I-95 in Miami-Dade later this year, is preparing another in a seemingly endless string of studies to see if there is any way to squeeze a little more capacity.

But adding capacity hasn't proved to be the long-term answer elsewhere. The state recently completed a $58 million project that added one lane in each direction on a 10-mile stretch of Interstate 4 through downtown Orlando.

The result: a 30-percent increase in the number of cars using the highway, and a short-term improvement in rush-hour travel times. But rampaging growth is quickly consuming the new capacity.

That kind of short-term fix isn't available on I-95 in Miami-Dade. The Orlando area project required no new right-of-way. In Miami-Dade, the added space would require major money to acquire land in neighborhoods that would fight the further encroachment.

The 6:30 a.m. Wednesday accident that triggered the 15-mile-long logjam is all too familiar to anyone who regularly survives the mayhem on South Florida roads.

A tour bus operator driving in the far left of the three southbound lanes on I-95 approaching downtown Miami made a lightning quick maneuver, cutting across all three lanes. The bus exited at Northwest Eighth Street, but left a chain reaction of screeching brakes, broken glass and twisted metal in its wake.

Four cars traveling in the right lane collided. A Hialeah man, whose Dodge four-door spun out and collided head-on with a Miami police car, was transported to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital with critical injuries. The others escaped relatively unharmed.

Two travel lanes were shut down for nearly two hours at the height of the morning rush. The bottleneck spread like a virus onto the nearby Dolphin Expressway (State Road 836) and avenues such as Northwest Seventh and Northeast Second that serve as the best north-south alternatives. The situation was exacerbated by the ongoing reconstruction of U.S. 1 along Biscayne Boulevard.

''Really, it's not very unusual,'' said Lt. Julio Pajon, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol in Miami. ``We might have been closed a little longer than usual because a police car was involved. But other than that . . ..''

The FHP, which aims to clear most accidents within 90 minutes, said all three lanes reopened around 8:30 a.m. But by then, I-95 was jammed north of the notoriously congested Golden Glades interchange into south Broward.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

Santana, and dozens of other traffic experts, planners and engineers say the only real solution lies with the answer that seems anathema to high-growth Sun Belt communities: mass transit.

Local transit officials may be the only ones who look at hellish tie-ups as opportunities to encourage more people to forsake their cars.

Miami-Dade Transit normally runs 21 ''95 Express'' buses from the Golden Glades into Miami on weekdays. When word of the pileup reached Central Bus Ops, managers not only rerouted all the drivers onto U.S. 441 and Northwest Seventh Avenue, they threw five standby buses into the fray, picking up an estimated 200 more people at the Golden Glades.

''That's how we have to win them over,'' Transit Director Roosevelt Bradley said.

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Posted on Thu, Jan. 13, 2005

Miami-Dade commissioners hold off approval of Transit funding plan

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

[email protected]

A key county commission committee Thursday refused to endorse a controversial plan that would use sales tax money to pay off old Miami-Dade Transit debts that were never considered by voters when they approved the tax in 2002.

The five-member Transportation Committee forwarded County Manager George Burgess' plan without recommendation, setting up a Jan. 20 showdown in front of the 13-member county commission.

Several commissioners, including new Transportation Committee Chairman Carlos Gimenez, blasted the plan that calls for using more than $183 million in sales-tax proceeds between now and 2011 to pay off debts and fund some services that existed well before the election.

Opponents say this breaks the fundamental promise of the 2002 campaign: ``New Money, New Projects.''

''This is not what the people voted for. I know what I voted for. I know what my friends voted for,'' Gimenez said. ``All this money was going to be separate and it was going to pay for new service. It wasn't to pay for old deficits that were in place before the vote.''

Burgess, who did not participate in the 2002 campaign, defended his plan as a logical way to reverse decades of underfunding at Miami-Dade Transit.

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Posted on Fri, Jan. 14, 2005

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Panel steers clear of transit plan

The Dade manager's plan to use sales tax money to pay old transit debts ran into opposition from commissioners who say it doesn't keep the promises of the 2002 tax campaign.

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

[email protected]

A key County Commission committee Thursday refused to endorse a plan that would use sales tax money to pay off old Miami-Dade Transit debts that were never considered by voters when they approved the tax in 2002.

The five-member Transportation Committee forwarded County Manager George Burgess' plan without recommendation, setting up a Thursday showdown in front of the 13-member County Commission.

CRITICAL WORDS

Several commissioners, including new committee Chairman Carlos Gimenez, criticized the plan that calls for using more than $183 million in sales-tax proceeds between now and 2011 to pay off debts and fund some services that existed well before the election.

Opponents say this breaks the fundamental promise of the 2002 campaign: ``New Money, New Projects.''

''This is not what the people voted for. I know what I voted for. I know what my friends voted for,'' Gimenez said. ``All this money was going to be separate and it was going to pay for new service. It wasn't to pay for old deficits that were in place before the vote.''

Burgess, who did not participate in the 2002 campaign, defended his plan as a logical way to reverse decades of underfunding at Miami-Dade Transit.

He is seeking permission to spend the tax revenue to settle deficits that the transit agency started before 2002, pay debt service on buses purchased before the election, and to cover other basic operations.

In return, Burgess is committing commissioners to a series of long-term promises such as 3.5 percent annual increases in the general fund contribution to the transit agency, plus a 1.5 percent annual increase in the county's share of gasoline taxes over the next 30 years.

Combined with a $2 million bump to the annual general fund increase this year, and the future 3.5 percent increases, Burgess would put more than $200 million toward the transit agency's bottom line over the next 30 years -- more than the amount of sales tax money he is seeking to use in the short term.

Burgess said his proposal will get the three leading Metrorail expansion projects built much faster than what was put before the voters in 2002, if federal officials agree to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in matching construction funds.

Based on the latest projections, the link between Earlington Heights station and the Miami Intermodal Center under construction east of the airport could be open by 2011, the North Corridor along Northwest 27th Avenue from 62nd Street to the Broward County border by 2013, and the east-west segment from the airport to Florida International University by 2015.

If all three lines are running by 2016, Burgess said approximately $1.1 billion will remain in the plan, allowing future county commissioners to reset the priorities for the next generation of rail or express bus lines to be planned and designed and possibly built.

NOT IN PLAN

Six other lines that were promised in the 2002 campaign are no longer part of the spending plan.

Even commissioners who voiced support for the Burgess plan acknowledged that they need to get out in the community and explain to voters who are complaining about bait-and-switch tactics.

''None of us is going to like this,'' Commissioner Katy Sorensen said. ``But we're going to have to bite the bullet.''

But Sorensen criticized county staff members for presenting ''balanced'' transit budgets year after year, when the agency was actually running shortfalls exceeding $20 million. At the end of the fiscal year, transit officials would basically borrow the money from the upcoming year's federal capital improvement grants to cover the shortfalls -- and reduce the amount of new equipment that could be purchased or rehabilitated.

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Good for the panel, holding their ground. Burgess' designs are precisely the reason that people eventually sour on passing referenda which entail tax increases.

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Posted on Wed, Jan. 19, 2005

AVIATION

Airbus' A380 is now ready for takeoff

Airbus unveiled the newest and largest in commercial jetliners, the Airbus A380, but many orders need to be filled before the company turns a profit.

BY LAURENCE FROST

Associated Press

TOULOUSE, France - Airbus put its stamp on aviation history Tuesday, unveiling the world's largest commercial jet and raising the stakes in its 35-year rivalry with Boeing.

The double-decker A380 ''superjumbo,'' each capable of flying up to 800 passengers, gives the European plane-maker a new flagship and completes its range of jets at a time when Boeing is losing market share and reducing some production.

French President Jacques Chirac and other European leaders struck a triumphal note at the ceremony, hailing the A380 as a sign of Europe's capacity to generate world-beating industries.

''It's a symbol of economic strength, technological innovation, the dedication of the work force that built it and above all of a confidence that we can compete and win in the global market,'' British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

But the A380, which was partially funded by European governments, amounts to a huge bet that carriers need ever-bigger planes to process growing numbers of passengers through the busiest hub airports. Airbus is investing $13 billion to develop the plane, which has a list price of $280 million apiece and is scheduled for its first commercial flight in 2006.

Air France and Virgin Atlantic Airways have each said they plan to fly the A-380 to Miami.

MIAMI'S CONNECTION

Miami International Airport will be able to accommodate the massive planes at one gate at concourses H and J, said Miami-Dade Interim Aviation Director Carlos Bonzon.

''We don't think we will have the A380 before 2007,'' he said. ``By then the South Terminal will be almost one year complete, so it will have those two gates ready.''

The A380 is not expected to fly to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

''There's been no request for any airline to use that plane at our airport, so it's not anticipated in the immediate future,'' said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds. ``We do think there is justification for European service from our airport, but not on that scale.''

If Airbus is right, the A380 could consign the once-dominant Boeing 747 jumbo jet to history, deal a further blow to the Chicago-based company and leave Airbus with a monopoly in a lucrative and fast-growing market. Boeing would need 10 years or more to develop a rival to the A380, industry experts say.

But if its sales forecasts prove to be too optimistic or the new plane's production costs soar, then the Airbus lead over Boeing in plane deliveries over the past two years could disappear.

Boeing sees a different future, one in which industry deregulation and smaller, long-range planes like its planned two-aisle 7E7 Dreamliner allow passengers increasingly to fly direct, spurning stopovers. The 7E7, which will seat between 217 and 289 passengers, is scheduled to debut in 2008.

BOEING HEDGES BETS

But Boeing is hedging its bets. Last year, it announced plans for a larger, 450-seat 747, despite having previously dismissed the need -- and Airbus' plans -- for a bigger plane. A launch decision is expected in mid-2005.

New orders for the current 747 is on the decline, dropping from 35 in 1999 to 10 in 2004. Boeing delivered 15 last year and its current backlog is down to only 32, according to the company. It has had no orders for the aircraft so far this year.

''Clearly, we will not get back to the glory days of large manufacturing production rates'' for the 747, said Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher. But he added, ``We're quite happy with where the 747 fits in the market, today and going forward.''

Jon Ash, president of InterVISTAS-ga2, a Washington-based aviation consulting firm, also said he sees a future for the Boeing plane. ''The 747 is going to have the middle market, for those carriers that don't believe they can generate the kinds of volumes that are necessary for the A380, or where their route structure is not constrained by congestion,'' he said.

Airbus already has 149 orders for the A380, which has a 262-foot wingspan and a tail as tall as a seven-story building. It says it needs 100 more to break even, and a further 500 before it can deliver on its pledge of a 20 percent return on investment.

In a three-class cabin layout, the A380 will carry 555 passengers -- 33 percent more than the 747. On a full tank, it will carry passengers 5 percent farther than Boeing's longest-range jumbo, Airbus claims, at a smaller per-passenger cost up to one-fifth below its rival's.

Airlines, which have closely guarded their A380 cabin designs, will decide how to use the extra space. Low-cost carriers could operate a single economy-class layout accommodating as many as 800 passengers. In contrast, Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson said his airline, which has ordered six A380s, will offer private double beds for first-class passengers.

Herald business writer Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.

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http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/10685962.htm

MIAMI-DADE TRANSIT | QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

It's decision day on transit-tax use

Here are some key questions answered as Miami-Dade commissioners consider whether to provide transit sales-tax money to pay old debts and other expenses for Miami-Dade Transit.

BY LARRY LEBOWITZ

[email protected]

Miami-Dade commissioners are expected to vote today on a plan that would use $183 million in sales-tax proceeds over the next six years to settle old Miami-Dade Transit operating deficits and anticipated shortfalls through 2011.

County Manager George Burgess' plan, coupled with new, more conservative financial projections, has stirred controversy. The revisions highlighted what critics say were flaws with the 2002 campaign that created the half-cent tax for transit and showed that funds are not available to finish building most of the lines that were promised.

Q. What would Burgess' proposed amendment to the 30-year sales-tax spending plan do?

A. It would allow county staff to use sales-tax proceeds as one of many revenue sources for Miami-Dade Transit. The tax campaign pledged ''New Money, New Projects,'' but Burgess and Transit staffers say they can't run two separate systems. The sales tax, they say, creates a regular, steady revenue stream that not only improves the existing operations, but will help attract matching federal dollars to build new rail lines -- just as the campaign promised.

Q. Is this the bait-and-switch that some critics feared?

A: County officials say it's not. Burgess hopes the plan goes a long way toward reversing what two decades of county managers and commissioners failed to accomplish: provide consistent general-fund growth to Transit.

Between 1986 and 2003, the county's general-fund contribution to Transit -- the largest of several revenue streams to the agency -- rose on average less than 1.8 percent a year. Transit scraped by, year after year, never cutting service and constantly looking for one-time quick fixes to fill the gaps.

Five weeks before the 2002 vote, Transit ended the year with a $23.9 million deficit. Officials balanced the books by borrowing the money from the next year's federal capital-improvement funds, meaning less money was available to buy new buses, rehab trains and plan for new rail lines.

With these latest moves, Transit is saying ''no more'' to borrowing from next year's funds to pay off last year's debts. About $63 million of the $183 million under consideration today would repay shortfalls for fiscal years 2002 through 2004. The rest would pay down debt on new buses purchased before the election and assure that Transit has enough money to implement all of its other service enhancements through 2011.

Q. How can the manager argue his plan is more financially responsible than the situation that existed after the 2002 election?

A: Burgess has already committed to increase the general-fund contribution to Transit 3.5 percent a year through 2034 and bump the agency's share of local gas-tax receipts by 1.5 percent a year for the same period. In December, he sweetened the pot by vowing to increase the general-fund contribution by $2 million this year, and continuing to maintain the 3.5-percent annual increases.

These moves will add more than $200 million to Transit's bottom line over the next 30 years, more than offsetting the $183 million the county intends to use between now and 2011.

By comparison, the sales-tax ordinance commissioners put in front of the voters simply called for the so-called ''maintenance of effort'' of $111.8 million a year -- the exact amount of general-fund revenue that commissioners gave to Transit in 2001.

Transit managers say the ordinance should have required growth in the ''maintenance of effort'' because it would clearly cost more to pay for the same number of drivers, mechanics, gasoline, vehicle parts and new buses over the next 30 years.

With flat general-fund growth, the old system quickly went into deficit. Sales tax proceeds would have to be used to pay for a large chunk of the old services, but that would reduce the amount of money available to plan, design, build, operate and maintain new rail lines.

Q. Why is Burgess' plan controversial?

A. Several commissioners are opposed to using sales-tax money generated after 2002 to resolve debts that accumulated before the election. The bigger issue: What happens when Burgess and the commissioners are no longer at County Hall? What recourse will voters have that future managers, commissioners and mayors will keep three decades of promises?

Q. And what becomes of the 2002 campaign promises?

A. The massive bus service expansion remains on target, as do all of the public works projects promised in 2002.

Burgess and Transit Director Roosevelt Bradley can legitimately argue that three lines -- Earlington Heights to the Miami Intermodal Center, the North Corridor, and the East-West from the MIC to Florida International University -- could be open on an even faster schedule than what was promised.

That leaves six other lines promised in 2002. Assuming several fare increases and that the first three lines are built and operating by 2016, Burgess says there will be approximately $1.1 billion remaining in the Transit program.

That's enough money to start planning and design on at least one and maybe two more lines that could be built and operating by 2034. Commissioners would have to prioritize which lines come next.

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Posted on Mon, Jan. 24, 2005

BROWARD COUNTY

Train noise has some residents sounding off

With a sharp increase in the number of trains running on tracks used by Tri-Rail, nearby residents are pushing for a ban on trains blowing their horns. Federal regulations are expected soon that could make that a reality.

BY MICHAEL HIBBLEN

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Eric Dabach of Hollywood calls it a horrible surprise.

After pouring everything he had into buying a home a year ago in the Lakes of Emerald Hills, Debach says he soon noticed an increase in the number of trains and noise coming from railroad tracks just over his backyard fence.

``I see them doing construction, go back there and find they're building a second track.''

That additional track, to be completed next year along the entire 72-mile corridor, which mostly parallels Interstate 95, is allowing Tri-Rail, Amtrak and freight carrier CSX to sharply increase the number of trains they run.

Eventually, as many as 60 trains a day will run, bringing much more noise, which has residents like Dabach upset.

'When that horn goes off early in the morning, it does wake me up. And I run my business from my house, so I'll be on the phone and people are like, `What is that?' ''

It's a complaint echoed by one resident after another. But in some areas, people near the tracks could soon get a break.

After a decade of study, the Federal Railroad Administration is expected to release guidelines in the coming days for communities that want to apply to become a ''quiet zone,'' meaning passenger and freight trains would not sound their air horns, except in an emergency.

Current Florida law mandates that trains begin blowing the horn 1,500 feet before each public crossing.

But upgrades to the crossings -- like having four full-size gates that completely block all lanes of traffic and lane dividers to keep vehicles from driving around the barriers -- could make communities eligible for the ban.

It has been up to each state to determine rules for the so-called ''whistle ban,'' but at the request of Congress, the FRA has been working to come up with a national standard, which would supersede all local laws.

During the 1980s, the state imposed a nighttime ban on much of the Florida East Coast Railway, which runs from Jacksonville to Miami on a different track, a couple of miles east of Tri-Rail's.

The result: The number of trains colliding with cars and trucks nearly tripled between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the hours the ban was in place.

''The slaughter was awful,'' said FEC historian Seth Bramson. ``The stupidity of people driving around the gates.''

`SAFETY DEVICE'

In 1991, the FRA issued an emergency order telling engineers to resume sounding the horn, and the number of accidents returned to the previous level.

The FEC track would not be eligible for a whistle ban because its crossings are not being upgraded, unless communities decide they want to pay for it.

FEC spokesman Husein Cumber said it has no interest in returning to a whistle ban unless pushed by the communities, calling the audible warning ``a proven and successful safety device.''

The Florida Department of Transportation is sponsoring a seminar Feb. 3 at its Fort Lauderdale office, with representatives from local governments, the railroads and federal officials to discuss the new regulations.

They will likely go into effect in April, and each community will need to apply for the ban. Engineers would still be able to pull the horn if they see something on the tracks, but some residents worry that could lead to abuse.

Martin Shugar, chairman of the Noise Pollution Committee for his Hollywood development, said railroads should be required to file a detailed incident report for each occurrence.

''How often do they see something and need to blow? I'm going to guess maybe once every two or three weeks,'' Shugar said. ``If it's a justifiable horn blow, then hey, you've got to fill out the report.''

He and other residents in the Lakes of Emerald Hills are also calling for a 22-foot wall to be built to help absorb the rumble of the additional trains. They point out that the new track is 10 feet closer to their homes and that as part of building the track, crews cleared out thick, tall vegetation that had provided a natural barrier.

FOLLOWING SUIT

Other cities along the tracks are also interested in applying to become quiet zones, including Boca Raton.

The moan of passing trains has been a part of most coastal cities in South Florida since their founding, but Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti has no regrets or nostalgia for ``an intrusive noise that could be eliminated.''

``We're excited as could be. We're very pleased that, because of the four quadrant gates, we're going to be able to finally, hopefully get some peace and quiet for our residents.''

Pedro Garcia, who lives just a few blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard, also is optimistic.

``In the middle of the night, when we're sleeping, they're blowing the horn two or three times. There's no reason for it, no cars going by. So we'd like to have the silence.''

Herald staff writer Jerry Berrios contributed to this report.

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Why the hell would anyone buy a house near railroad tracks and then complain about the noise? This is equivalent to living next to a runway. Put a wall up and be done with it.

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