ALL ABOARD ONCE SNUBBED STATION PLAN, STUART DUBIOUS OF "NEWFOUND" INTEREST

Publish Date: 
Friday, February 27, 2015 - 6:00am

 TCPALM

 Several Treasure Coast officials Thursday expressed distrust in All Aboard Florida’s newfound willingness to consider developing train stations between West Palm Beach and Orlando.

“With no disrespect, I think of Shakespeare: ‘Much ado about nothing,’ ” said longtime Stuart City Commissioner Jeff Krauskopf. “We already explored it and they said no.”

All Aboard officials had long said they were focused on establishing passenger train service between Orlando and Miami with stops only in the densely populated cities of West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. They said any consideration for stations on the Treasure and Space coasts would happen after the railroad company started running 16 trains per day in each direction.

But All Aboard Vice President Russell “Rusty” Roberts read a statement during a Stuart City Commission meeting Saturday saying the train company now is willing to consider developing train stations in cities between West Palm Beach and Orlando.

“All Aboard Florida will work with communities that identify station locations by initiating a predevelopment process, which will include analyzing ridership data and any necessary environmental studies,” Roberts said.

Roberts made the statement four days after the Indian River and Martin county commissions voted to set aside a total of $4 million for potential court battles against the $2.25 billion passenger train project.

Hundreds of Treasure Coast officials and residents have expressed concern the high-speed train service would impede emergency vehicles, delay motorists and boaters, harm downtown redevelopment efforts and cause more mishaps along the tracks. Many also have said the absence of an All Aboard station on the Treasure Coast means local residents would get no benefit from a train service that would damage their quality of life.

“I just find it really interesting that all of a sudden Martin County and Indian River County vote to put money aside for litigation and all of a sudden now they’re willing to talk (about) train stations,” said Stuart City Commissioner Troy McDonald. “I find that kind of curious.”

McDonald was among the Stuart officials who pitched the idea of a train station in downtown Stuart to All Aboard officials in June. The city’s presentation included a digital animation video showing a mock-up of a station and a hotel with a rooftop pool on the Triangle property adjacent to the train tracks.

But All Aboard officials rejected the station proposal, McDonald, Krauskopf and other Stuart officials said. As a result, the idea of developing a train station in downtown Stuart was pushed back several years.

Officials from the railroad company did not respond Thursday to questions about the comments by the Stuart commissioners and how the company would determine whether to build any train stations on the Treasure Coast.

City Manager Paul Nicoletti estimated the city would build a transit depot in downtown Stuart, which also would serve Martin County’s bus system and the city’s downtown tram service, no sooner than 2020.

Vero Beach is another city on the Treasure Coast uninterested in developing a train station alongside the train tracks.

“Our council has been pretty much opposed to it,” said Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor.

Brevard County officials have been more receptive to the high-speed rail project. The All Aboard line will follow the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from Miami to Cocoa and then turn west onto a new stretch of tracks running along State Road 528 from Cocoa to a transit station at Orlando International Airport.

“The Space Coast recently initiated a site-analysis study to identify a single station location that will be supported by the region’s elected officials, business and community leaders, and residents,” Roberts said. “We support that vision and encourage the Treasure Coast to focus their resources on a similar process.”

Bob Kamm, executive vice president of the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization, said a link eventually could be established between the All Aboard line and Port Canaveral, which features a booming cruise-ship industry.

“This is a local initiative on our part,” Kamm said. “We’re going to have a study which we will submit and they will deal with as they see fit. We have no guarantees. That’s why I’ve always called it ‘potential.’ They have only agreed to consider us. Just getting it up and running through Brevard positions us for a stop. There’s zero chance if the train doesn’t come.”

Stuart officials said they believe AAF’s new willingness to consider developing train stations on the Treasure Coast is too little and too late.

“I think they’ve burned the bridge,” Nicoletti said. “I just don’t see any interest on the part of any elected officials in Martin County to do that.”