Longform

A Guide to Trashing Taxpayers

Miami is a great place to throw away public money. This is spectacularly apparent to the 108,500 folks on the Dolphin Expressway who pass the new Marlins stadium every day. The cost to taxpayers on that one: $2.4 billion. We'll be paying it off for the next 40 years.

But at least million-dollar ball players will have somewhere to pitch and catch when the park is opened next year. There's far more taxpayer-funded, politically suspect stuff that's less visible.

Indeed, our leaders are nationally renowned innovators when it comes to building expensive, lamebrained monuments to irrelevance. There's a kiddie park in east Kendall that no one can park near. Or how about the nine-mile bicycle path between downtown and South Miami that almost no one rides on? Hey, what about that two-story landmark in Hialeah that you can't even walk inside because it has no rooms. Or the new $51 million cultural arts center that just opened in Cutler Bay? It's just 30 minutes from a relatively new performing arts center that cost a cool half-billion.

Don't the guys who fund this stuff realize unemployment is at a record high, our homes are worth half what they were just a few years ago, and governments are laying off cops and firefighters?

What are they? Dumb?

To assess their level of ignorance, New Times rounded up six prominent critics and asked them to name the worst examples of public works projects that serve little or no purpose. We'll guide readers through the genesis of these taxpayer-funded catastrophes and describe how much money has been flushed down the commode. We've also invited online readers to submit picks for worst government-funded endeavors at riptidemiami.com. Now join us on a ride through the fruits of your tax dollars.

Metrorail M-Path

Year built: 1984

Cost: $266,945

What's dumb about it: Throws good money after bad.

Why it was built: To create the illusion that Miami is friendly to pedestrians and cyclists.

It's afternoon rush hour this past October 28. We count three people traveling on the 27-year-old, nine-mile strip of pavement known as the M-Path, which runs mostly along busy South Dixie Highway, from the mouth of the Miami River to Red Road. There's one guy on a royal-blue Schwinn near the Coconut Grove Metrorail station and a woman pushing a stroller with a baby at the Douglas Road station. Although the M-Path was designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, most days you'd be hard-pressed to find either. That's because of heavy vehicular traffic and a gauntlet of 21 dangerous intersections. There aren't even signs warning drivers to slow down or stop at crosswalks.

Most cyclists avoid the M-Path. "Last time I was on it was three months ago," Miami Bike Scene blogger Rydel Deed says. "On days you ride the M-Path, you can't let your guard down. The M-Path sucks."

Transit Miami blogger Tony Garcia, another critic, says the M-Path shows that planners give priority to motorists. "Our transportation system tends to be mediocre when it comes to all other modes besides cars." The path could be great for nonmotorists, but "it seems like it goes nowhere," he says.

Now transportation officials are wasting $4.5 million more. They are building a pedestrian bridge that will link the M-Path at Red Road to the Dadeland North Metrorail station and the South Dade Trail, a million-dollar, 20-mile urban path to Florida City. The bridge is slated to open in December.

Wrong solution, Deed says. Try crosswalks. "At the very least, paint the crosswalks green so people in cars can see there is a path in front of them," he suggests. "That is something that is so inexpensive to do. I'd rather have that than spend millions on a bridge."

Marc Sarnoff's Traffic Circle

Year built: 2007

Cost: $127,000

What's dumb about it: It's designed so poorly that school buses can't navigate it without backing up at least twice.

Why it was built: A city commissioner's self-serving pet project.

In 2001, Marc Sarnoff was president of the Center Coconut Grove Homeowners Association. He complained to city and county road planners that he needed a circle to slow traffic in front of his two houses. Their response: The four-way stop at Virginia Street and Shipping Avenue was doing a fine job. Six years later, newly elected Commissioner Sarnoff made the circle one of his top priorities.

He was required to gather signatures from two-thirds of the residents on Shipping and Virginia. But that proved too difficult, so Sarnoff found an end run: Mary Conway, who at the time was Miami's chief of operations. In sworn testimony in an unrelated criminal probe, Conway said Sarnoff was "always supportive" and had once offered her a job on his staff. Perhaps to show her appreciation, she tacked funding for the traffic circle onto an unrelated street-closure project in 2007 without obtaining the signatures. Even worse, the money came from a sales tax meant to improve public transportation.