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Sept. 25, 2003 - Miami Herald

A citizens advisory group votes in favor of a long-time mass transit plan and sends it to the county.

By Draeger Martinez

Urged on by North Miami-Dade leaders, the area's Citizen Advisory Committee has accepted a proposal to build an elevated Metrorail line running through West Little River, Opa-locka and Miami Gardens to the edge of the Broward County line.

The committee's action sends the issue to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Miami-Dade County Commission, which hold the real power over the project. District 1 County Commissioner Betty Ferguson assured the 70 or so people at a committee meeting Monday at the North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., that the public will be able to give ongoing input on the expansion project.

''This is not the final stage. This will still go before the MPO and the commission for their approval,'' Ferguson said at the meeting, ``but I'm saying let's move it out of this process tonight if we can.''

Transit officials first proposed the plan in 1999. It would build a Metrorail line running roughly parallel to 27th Avenue for 9 « miles -- from Northwest 79th to roughly Northwest 214th streets. Each year planners would make changes to the proposed route, which veers close to Miami Dade College's North Campus on the west side of Northwest 27th Avenue, then passes over the street to the east side toward Pro Player Stadium.

But little concrete action took place until last November, when Miami-Dade voters approved a half-cent sales tax expected to yield billions of dollars for county transit projects. Flush with the prospect of new money and a popular mandate, the rail expansion began moving toward a more solid future.

Shortly before the tax vote, North Miami-Dade residents formed the North Corridor Bus Rapid Transit Study Citizen Advisory Committee, led by Anita Pittman and Terence Waldron, which looked at a proposal to expand bus routes into North Miami-Dade, but its two leaders said they soon switched priorities.

''People told us emphatically that they don't want more buses,'' Pittman, a former member of the now-defunct North Dade Community Council 3, said in an interview after Monday's meeting. ``We've been building up to the vote [Monday] for about a year, but our work isn't over yet. We're still having another meeting in October to gather any public input on the newest version of the rail route.''

Pittman said the group's next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 27, also at the North Dade Regional Library.

Waldron echoed Pittman's optimism for the project.

''I liked what I have heard tonight: lots of agreement and not much dissension,'' Waldron said in an interview. ``We intend to draw up a route that represents what the people agreed to [on Monday.]''

During the meeting, officials drew attention to a multicolored map of the rail expansion route, with yellow lines indicating the original proposal from 1999 and red lines marking the most recent changes.

Miami Gardens Mayor Shirley Gibson, whose city stands to benefit from the rail expansion, said she looks forward to having the route clarified in newer maps.

''We all want a clean copy that makes it absolutely clear what the route is,'' she said.