State raises cap on potential Miami-Dade SMART plan investment

1 Fort Lauderdale

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It isn’t nearly as good as money.

But when it comes to finding a solution for Miami-Dade’s traffic woes, a promise that more money could be on the way may feel like a start.

The Florida Department of Transportation signaled Thursday that it would no longer apply a funding cap to projects under Miami-Dade County’s ambitious SMART plan to expand the county’s limited mass transit system by about 80 miles. District 6 Secretary Jim Boxold, in a letter to Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, said a Florida statute limiting contributions to projects without federal funding at 12.5 percent would no longer be applied to the county’s mass transit vision should Washington snub its nose.

Current estimates project the county has the money to pay for only a fraction of the plan, and still needs to find most of the estimated $3.6 billion cost from a combination of local, state and federal sources. The state, under its new interpretation, would be eligible to fund half the cost of the projects in the SMART plan, but no more than the local contribution.

That promise doesn’t come with any actual pledge of dollars, the biggest barrier to pursuing six new rail lines to unlock Miami-Dade’s gridlock. But it should be taken as a sign that dollars are on the way, said Suarez, the recipient of the letter.

“They don’t make a decision like this without an expectation that they’re going to put dollars behind it,” said Suarez, who lobbied the state through his senior roles on the Miami-Dade League of Cities and Metropolitan Planning Organization. “There’s no reason to make an interpretation like this without a commitment to fund a part of the SMART plan.”

Funding for the SMART plan has been a source of friction lately. This week, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said higher taxes may be needed in order to come up with the money, though he stressed he wasn’t recommending a tax hike. Officials have also discussed raising money through tax increment zones that capture property taxes around rail lines.

Alice Bravo, Gimenez’s transportation chief, said the county has lobbied the state for months over the funding cap.

”It’s very big,” she said. “It’s a great win for the county, as a whole.”

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