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Miami-Dade Transportation Organization Picks Bus Lines Over Extended Rail Line

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) - The future of transit in Miami-Dade looks a lot like a bus.

That's because it will be.

In a 15 to five vote, the county's Transportation Planning Organization approved a rapid bus network that will extend to Florida City. In making their decision they opted not to go with a much more extension of the Metrorail line which would have cost in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez backed the plan to create a rapid bus network. He said the so-called Smart Plan system of rapid transit buses would eventually see six lines and expand to all edges of the county. The cost of the plan is around $300 million, about four times less than an extended rail line.

"It's just like a train, you get on like a train, you pre-pay like a train, the gates go down like a train, it's just as fast as a train except its got rubber tires," he said.

Critics of the bus plan, including some of the city mayors and county commissioners on the transportation planning panel, said buses won't work because the people won't use them.

They also point out that 16 years ago, the people imposed a half-penny tax on themselves with the clear expectation that a high-speed rail service would be the future.

"People were told, they voted, they were promised, the expected, they paid, and yes we need to deliver," said Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

"No one ever said that that half penny alone was going to pay for all of this, it was meant as a local dedicated source to match federal money," added former Miami-Dade mayor Alex Penelas. "Even if we were over ambitious that doesn't justify misspending the money."

Those who favored rail over buses claim the county has misspent billions raised by the transit tax by using it to maintain the current dysfunctional system.

"It's not as efficient as taking just one [train] stop [instead of taking] you 15 minutes to go through all the traffic," said resident Alisis Garcia. "I prefer doing that than having to walk and take a bus and walk again."

Rhonda Anderson of Coral Gables was among citizens who spoke against the bus plan, saying it won't attract riders.

"Are they going to be happy, going on a bus, waiting at the station, transferring to a rail," Anderson asked the board.

Cutler Bay Mayor Peggy Bell joined other South Dade leaders in speaking against the bus line.

"Please don't relegate us to bus forever, because if you make that decision today, that's what you are doing," Bell said.

County Commissioner Dennis Moss brought the argument around again to the transit tax voters passed in 2002.

"People voted on this half-cent sales tax because they expected to have rail extended throughout Miami-Dade County," Moss said.

Those who prevailed in approving the rapid bus system said it simply makes economic sense.

"The bus will provide what the train will provide but at just a fraction of the cost," said County Commissioner Joe Martinez.

Those on the losing end were disappointed.

"This is not the solution I was looking for. This is not the solution South Dade is looking for and also North Dade, because we, together, need rail," said Levine Cava.

The rapid bus plan's biggest booster, however, was beaming.

"That was a good vote because now we can actually start doing something rather than promising people things that really can't come to pass," said Mayor Gimenez.

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