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Traffic and rail promises form dividing line in Miami-Dade mayoral race

@doug_hanks

Traffic certainly qualifies as a top gripe in Miami-Dade County, so it's no surprise to see it emerge as a top campaign issue in the mayoral campaign, too. 

Mayor Carlos Gimenez's first official television ad centers around his recent reset of the county's long-suffering rail ambitions. Known as the "SMART" plan, it calls for spending $31 million for new studies of major transit corridors across the county -- to determine whether they're suited for rail or less-expensive bus options. 

"My vision for the future of transit is the SMART Plan," Gimenez says in the ad, filmed in a county Metrorail car. "Six new transit corridors all throughout Miami-Dade."

 

The idea behind the SMART plan is to jump-start a rail plan county leaders promised voters in 2002  in exchange for a half-percent sales tax dedicated to transit. That was almost a decade before Gimenez took office in 2011.

The tax funds fell well short of ambitions, and almost none of the promised rail came to be. Five of Gimenez's six potential rail routes in the SMART plan overlap with the ones promised in 2002: an east-west line; the so-called Baylink route to South Beach; rail for Kendall; and lines going north and south. A sixth, a "Coastal Link" using existing cargo tracks that parallel the Miami waterfront, is also under consideration. 

Once the studies are completed, elected officials will have new ridership and cost projections to begin the hard work of deciding which routes might justify costly light-rail and which might be better off with something cheaper, such as high-tech buses running in dedicated lanes

At a candidate's forum on Tuesday night, Gimenez challenger Raquel Regalado ridiculed Gimenez's SMART plan as cover for his administration not delivering a major rail expansion beyond a two-mile extension to Miami International Airport. 

"It's more of the same," said Regalado, a two-term school board member. "If Carlos Gimenez didn't do it in five years, why would another four years make a difference? 

 

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