Tag Archives: MDX

More Highways A Drain on The Economy

MDX wants to further subsidize suburban sprawl with a new toll expressway at the western edge of the county.

Meanwhile, more than 25% of county residents live on little over 5% of the land – a staggering concentration of people in a relatively small area, yet investments are being made that are out of step with these demographic changes.

The idea that Miami-Dade is a suburban county pervades popular thought, but these numbers tell a different story. The time when Miami-Dade lacked sufficient density to invest in mass transit has passed, and the demographic shift toward the city center is ever increasing. A recent Pew Center study highlighted the shift away from car culture among the 50 million Millennials in the United States, a trend that we see here in Miami. The rate of car ownership has fallen among this group over the last thirty years from 38% in 1985 to 27% in 2013. How will our city thrive in the coming decades if the generation to come eschews the vision of autocentric suburban America? This is the essence of the brain drain Miami-Dade is experiencing.

It will take bold leadership from our elected officials to turn away from the status quo, and bring forth a new vision for transportation in Miami. One such leader is Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who recently penned a letter to the MDX board that described our challenge in clear terms:

Your proposed new tolls, covering the entirety of SR 836, and including a cost of living increase, are nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment for urban dwellers who have very little alternative due to our inefficient and overly costly system of mass transportation.

Commissioner Suarez is correct: without any alternative, the increase in toll rates places an onerous burden on the driving public; however, the real issue for current and future leaders is not simply toll increases, but the lack of alternative forms of transportation. Mass transit is costly and complicated to implement, but cities are complex places. Continuing on the path of suburban sprawl and highway expansion may be the cheap and easy route, but as my grandfather was fond of saying, lo barato sale caro (cheap things turn out more expensive in the end). The cost to our region will be great if do not diversify our transportation network and ensure that coming generations are not beholden to their cars.

The Truth About Tolls from Commissioner Xavier Suarez

We have been working together with Commissioner Xavier Suarez to address the MDX’s plan to increase tolls and expand highways. He penned the following letter to the MDX board which hits the nail on the head:

Open letter to MDX Members:

I have recently been briefed by your chairman and have exchanged letters of inquiry with your executive director.

My main concern is what appears as an ever-increasing effort to impose user fees (by means of tolls) on motorists traversing what are essentially urban arteries.

As a general rule, the idea of charging users for roads already built and whose cost for maintenance is low (due to our favorable weather conditions) contradicts the logic of consumption of public goods, whose fixed costs are high but whose marginal cost of each user is minimal.

The agency was given authority, some 16 years ago, for five expressways in our county. Some of those were underused at the time and are still not particularly congested. In return for that grant of authority and control, the agency “defeased” (assumed the obligation for) a mere $60 million previously owed by the state.

Since that time, you have increased the debt to over $1.2 billion, meaning that you have increased debt for those urban roadways by a staggering 2,000%!

A big chunk of that new debt, comprising more than a quarter billion dollars, was spent on reconstructing interchanges. Aside from the wisdom of spending such huge amounts in just connecting existing roadways, it is apparent that no thought was given to what economists call the “transactional cost” of such improvements – meaning the amazing disruption of traffic patterns, the bewildering confusion for motorists, and the additional congestion during the transitional period.

Now it appears as if the agency wishes to tax us at all points in the system, comprising a daily charge of as much as $8 round-trip for folks commuting from the southernmost tip of Miami-Dade to the northeasternmost tip.

I have lived in four American cities: Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston and Miami. In none, except Miami, has it become necessary to charge motorists for use of normal roadways in the metropolitan area.

Your proposed new tolls, covering the entirety of SR 836, and including a cost of living increase, are nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment for urban dwellers who have very little alternative due to our inefficient and overly costly system of mass transportation.

I am also concerned about what appears as a doubling of the interest expense from FY 2010 to FY 2011, from approximately $19 million to about $38 million.

It should be noted, in that connection that if you combine the $38 million paid in annual interest payments to the $24 million paid in annual operating expenses, the cost to maintain the system exceeds the entire initial debt. In other words, more is being spent on a yearly basis to maintain these five expressways than the entire debt obligation assumed 16 years ago.

Our county notoriously pays more in state taxes than it receives. By accepting responsibility for five essentially completed expressways and taxing users going forward for expansion thereof, your agency has aggravated the inequity of our transportation cost-benefit equation, when considered vis-a-vis the rest of the state.

I should also mention the bewilderment felt by our thirteen million visitors, when they see signs that say “no cash allowed” or “all cash vehicles must leave the expressway.” When you add that confusion to our strange system of highways, where no lane is safe from disappearing or flowing in a totally different direction, the overall effect is to disinvite those that make up our key industry.

Based on the above, I urge you to delay this decision until you have considered every other possible alternative.

Thank you in advance for your consideration hereof.

Very Truly Yours,

Xavier L. Suarez

Way to go Commish! this is much needed clarity and leadership from the BCC. #vision #leadership