ALL ABOARD FLORIDA OPPONENTS MEET WITH ANANTH PRASAD

Publish Date: 
Friday, August 29, 2014 - 6:45am

By Matt Dixon August 28, 2014 TCPalm

Opponents of All Aboard Florida had what they called an “open and candid” meeting with top transportation officials from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.

Bill Ward, a leader with CARE-FL, said his group’s chief concern is public safety, particularly how it would impact things like ambulances and firefighter traffic.

“We want to know more about how this increase in passenger and freight traffic will impact our first responders and hospitals,” Ward told reporters after the meeting.

The group has been concerned that All Aboard Florida could send additional freight trains through the Treasure Coast if a second set of tracks is built. It’s a scenario All Aboard Florida officials refute.

CARE, an acronym for Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, met with Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and Rachel Cone, the deputy chief of staff in charge of transportation issues in Scott’s office.

Ward said their primary focus during the meeting was safety, not funding sources. The state has maintained that the proposed 235-mile passenger rail service is being built without taxpayer dollars, but All Aboard Florida officials have applied for $1.5 billion in federal grants.

John O’Brien, a transportation department spokesman, said officials “listened” to the group’s concerns and reiterated it’s a “private project.”

“The governor has called on federal officials to extend the comment period on their environmental impact statement,” he said. “Our office has no role in its finance or development.”

CARE sent a letter to Scott’s office shortly after forming in July requesting a meeting to share its concerns. They said scheduling conflicts had prevented early meetings, but they were finally able to have a “good back and forth.”

Administration officials also informed the group that All Aboard Florida had agreed to meet with the handful of groups opposing the project. The group brought its case to Tallahassee after several attempts to first meet with project officials.

“We are frustrated with lack of answers we are getting ... that is something we hope to see improved,” Ward said.