The Southeast Florida region—made up of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties—joins other rapidly growing regions looking to build their transportation systems differently.

Southeast Florida is the fourth most populous urbanized area in the United States, and continues to grow. The existing transportation system in the region, which is heavily auto-oriented, is close to reaching capacity. Congestion induced delays are no longer limited to the morning and afternoon rush hours but extend throughout the day. At the same time, the region is running out of room to build more roads.

In 2018, drivers in the Miami urban area lost up to 105 hours in traffic annually which cost the region $4 billion with an annual cost to drivers of $1,470. This will only worsen as Southeast Florida is projected to grow by more than 50,000 people per year, resulting in a 30% increase in population by 2045.

The Southeast Florida 2045 Regional Transportation Plan, adopted by the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC), is urging the region to make a needed change.

The existing transportation system in Southeast Florida, which is heavily auto-oriented, is close to reaching capacity, and the region is running out of room to build more roads. Photo by Andras Vas via Unsplash.

History and Purpose of the Southeast Florida Transportation Council

While the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency (TPA) have always maintained cooperative working relationships with one another, their alliance solidified when the 2000 Census data defined the eastern part of the tri-county area as the “Miami Urbanized Area.” In 2005, recognizing the need for increased regional transportation planning and coordination, balanced with the need and desire to maintain localized transportation planning, the three MPOs created the Southeast Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC).

The SEFTC is composed of three members, one representative from each of the MPO partners. This body facilitates transportation planning by engaging the public and fostering strong partnerships between the three MPOs and various partner agencies, local governments, and communities. One of SEFTC’S most important responsibilities is developing and implementing its Regional Transportation Plan in coordination with other regional and local plans, while moving toward an agreed-upon vision for transportation in Southeast Florida.

As the Miami-Dade TPO, Broward MPO, and Palm Beach TPA developed their respective 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plans / Long Range Transportation Plans, they have concurrently worked to develop a 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. This plan presents a vision for how the Southeast Florida region’s transportation system could be transformed through the collective efforts of the three MPOs and policy and investment changes at the regional level.

The Case for Change

“We’re losing billions of dollars annually due to traffic congestion,” writes Oliver G. Gilbert III, the current SEFTC Chair, in the introduction of the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan. “The lack of well-connected transportation options impacts residents’ access to jobs and visitors’ access to local attractions, and ultimately deters businesses from coming to South Florida. In these unparalleled times of pandemics and climate-fueled disasters, we must have a sense of urgency to transition our future to be more economically and environmentally resilient.”

"In these unparalleled times of pandemics and climate-fueled disasters, we must have a sense of urgency to transition our future to be more economically and environmentally resilient."

- Oliver G. Gilbert III, Southeast Florida Transportation Council Chair, Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization Chairman, City of Miami Gardens Mayor

In other rapidly-growing regions, investments in a diverse transit system have yielded significant economic growth and a better quality of life simultaneously. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, an initial $2.9 billion public capital light rail investment generated $8.1 billion of private capital investments.

Southeast Florida’s Regional Transportation Plan is updated every five years to adapt to changes in population, policy, funding and other influential activities occurring at the local, regional, state, and federal levels. Over the past decade, the region has adopted two Regional Transportation Plans that have impacted the way the region looks at infrastructure needs with an emphasis on transit. However, in Southeast Florida’s adopted 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, only 16% of the funded projects were transit-related, whereas nearly 100% of the unfunded highest priority projects were transit-related.

Shifting more existing funding to transit is still not enough to account for Southeast Florida’s anticipated growth. As Southeast Florida looks to shift away from an auto-centric society, they face a funding shortfall. The cost to build, maintain, and operate the urban infrastructure needed to move 7.5 million people exceeds the current funding available by $10 billion. Existing sources alone are not enough for the urbanized area to be prosperous and resilient when the population is growing by an average of 1,000 people per week.

Scenario Planning for a Different Future in Southeast Florida

Through scenario planning efforts, SEFTC explored several important policy and investment questions about Southeast Florida’s future. These questions revolved around three main elements: high-capacity transit needs, growth and development, and financial and legislative.

In order to model a set of future development scenarios for Southeast Florida, the SEFTC’s Regional Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (RTTAC) generated multiple conceptual recommendations for what transit could look like, where development may occur and at what density, and how much funding is needed and what sources could be potentially used. Three scenarios were evaluated: a scenario that follows the current trend (pictured in orange); a scenario that includes a regional-scale high-capacity transit network but with future land uses assumed to remain as currently planned for (pictured in green); and a high-capacity transit network but with a transit-supportive land use and development perspective (pictured in blue).

These scenarios were then evaluated by 13 performance measures:

  • Job accessibility by transit
  • Walk access to transit
  • Daily transit ridership
  • Walk and bike access to activity centers
  • Total walk/bike trips
  • Daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
  • Daily person vehicles miles traveled (VMT) by mode
  • Daily vehicles hours of travel
  • Average drive time to work
  • Mode share
  • Resiliency and vulnerability (from an environmental perspective)
  • Equity (defined by each MPO in accordance with FHWA requirements)
  • Total Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) emissions

Based on the performance results, it was evident that the Alternative Growth scenario’s performance best achieved the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan’s goals and SEFTC’s ultimate vision to create “a seamless, multi-modal transportation system that serves and benefits the entire region.” This scenario included an evaluation of current funding programs, identifying an opportunity to flex highway funding programs to transit investments–in addition to other funding sources–to build and maintain a multimodal system.

The results indicated that the success of this type of multimodal system would only be realized through different land use and development patterns, meaning transit oriented development (TOD) will be necessary to see a shift in travel choices. In Southeast Florida’s scenario, 75% of new population growth and jobs was assumed to occur within half a mile of high-capacity transit.

The results indicated that the success of this type of multimodal system would only be realized through different land use and development patterns, meaning transit oriented development will be necessary to see a shift in travel choices.

One immediate outcome of this scenario planning exercise was the integration into each MPO’s project needs development process. The Regional Transit Scenario network created a baseline needs assumption across the three-county region, creating consistency and stronger connectivity throughout the long-range planning process.

At the regional level, the data and technical analysis results from the scenario planning exercise was used to uncover policy needs that reshape and push forward Southeast Florida’s transportation network, funding programs, and land development practices into a 21st century transportation system mindset. New or improved modern mobility policies have been identified to lay the foundation needed to improve access, equity, and move people more effectively and efficiently throughout Southeast Florida.

SEFTC adopted the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan at their August 7, 2020 council meeting with each individual MPO Board then issuing a resolution of support in the fall of 2020.

Following adoption of the plan, further collaboration among elected officials and the business community is needed to advance these policy recommendations to move the needle from an auto-centric environment to a multimodal environment providing safe, affordable and convenient travel options for all.

Scenario planning for SEFTC's 2045 Regional Transportation Plan identified an opportunity to flex highway funding programs to transit investments–in addition to other funding sources–to build and maintain a multimodal system.

Changing the Future of Mobility in Southeast Florida

The Regional Transportation Plan ends on a note of call to action.

“Southeast Florida is growing by 1,000 residents per week,” the text boldly states. “As it is today, our transportation system is imbalanced and bursting at the seams.”

As the lead consultant to SEFTC since 2008, we at Kittelson are very proud to work with this group that is a model for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the country for regional coordination and partnership, and collaborate with Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach MPOs to develop a plan that supports and complements the needs identified in each of the adopted 2045 Metropolitan / Long Range Transportation Plans for the three counties. This new potential future could bring transformative change to Southeast Florida’s—and potentially the entire state’s—economic competitiveness, quality of life, and freedom of upward mobility.

“Other regions have responded to similar challenges, and in return, have experienced significant economic growth and a better quality of life simultaneously. We deserve the same,” concludes the report. “This is our call to action to connect our transportation and land-use planning and to create higher returns on investments for our economy and society.”