Kingsley Guy: Transportation in Fort Lauderdale is better than you think

The next time you have to wait for three light changes to get through a busy intersection, consider this: Traffic flows a lot better in Greater Fort Lauderdale than it does in Charlotte, Los Angeles and plenty of other highly populated regions in the United States.

In fact, the entire transportation infrastructure in Broward County — land, sea and air — has a lot going for it, and this will pay huge economic dividends in the decades ahead.

Port Everglades opened to ocean-going vessels in 1928. Today, it's one of the busiest cruise ports in the world, as well as a major destination for container ships and tankers.

What is now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was built on a nine-hole golf course in 1929 and used by the Navy during World War II. For decades, the airport terminal looked as if it belonged in rural Iowa, but pressure in the early 1980s by the Broward Workshop and the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel shook the Broward County Commission out of its torpor and it finally approved an expansion plan.

In 1986, new terminals opened ahead of schedule and under budget, giving Greater Fort Lauderdale one of the finest and most convenient airports in the country. After a decade of county commission dithering, a much-needed second major east-west runway is scheduled to open this year.

Industrialist Henry Flagler brought rail transportation to South Florida at the end of the 19th century. A facility now under construction at the port will facilitate the transfer of cargo containers from ship to train for transport throughout the Southeastern United States.

The second half of the 20th century was spent building roads. Broward has an excellent network of limited access highways in Florida's Turnpike, I-95, I-595, I-75 and the Sawgrass Expressway. At the time of construction, I-595 was perhaps the most expensive stretch per mile of the Interstate Highway System.

It has proved its worth, and the current expansion will add greatly to its value.

Transportation planners, however, warn that Broward has run out of space to build or widen roads, and that with the population growing, highways will become more congested unless alternatives are found for moving people. Here are a few thoughts on the subject:

Be realistic. People like the convenience and freedom that comes with driving an automobile, so a wholesale shift to mass transit isn't going to happen. The first priority must be maintaining the current road and bridge infrastructure and making it more efficient. I-595 soon will have lanes that reverse the traffic flow during rush hours. The same idea was broached years ago for streets such as Broward and Sunrise Boulevards. It may be time to revisit the idea to see if it makes sense.

The Wave light rail system in Fort Lauderdale undoubtedly will raise property values along the route, but it remains to be seen whether anyone will ride it. The system's utility would be greatly enhanced by extending it as soon as feasible to Port Everglades and the airport.

Tri-Rail, originally conceived as a temporary method of easing traffic congestion during the widening of I-95, has been losing large sums of money for nearly a quarter century. Commuter rail in South Florida will only make economic sense if the trains use the FEC tracks to the east that run through urban centers.

All Aboard Florida is a private venture designed to carry passengers from Miami to Orlando in three hours with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. If it makes money, great, but if it doesn't, government shouldn't subsidize it. Above all, Floridians should oppose any effort to revive plans for taxpayer-funded high-speed rail. This crony capitalistic boondoggle would waste tens of billions of dollars on what essentially is a 19th century technology and drain funds from worthwhile transportation projects.

Google and other companies have been developing self-driving cars. In a decade, they could be commonplace, and in three decades ubiquitous.

Coupled with other technological innovations, self-driving cars could greatly enhance the safety and efficiency of the nation's road network and do more to ease traffic congestion than all the mass-transit projects combined.

Watch Kingsley Guy, whose column appears every other Friday, on Barry Epstein Live, http://www.wrpbitv.com., 10 a.m. Fridays, or archived on the site.

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