Analysis: All Aboard Florida economic impact study only half the story

By Arnie Rosenberg Posted May 21, 2014 Arnie weighs in with a balance pro and con on the real economic impact. More on the story at the TC Palm.

On the surface, a project touting a $387 million economic benefit to the region couldn’t be a bad thing. Except, of course, if it’s All Aboard Florida.

Not surprisingly, opponents of the proposed Miami-to-Orlando high-speed passenger train wasted no time Wednesday in leveling criticism at the economic-impact study released by the railroad. Some called it a “joke,” a “childish sales pitch” and “an absolute crock.”

But even All Aboard Florida backers stopped short of professing their wholehearted support.

“It’s helpful. It gives people more factual things to hold onto. But we still have a long way to go to see what all the impacts are,” said Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith, possibly the only Treasure Coast elected official to publicly avow his support for the $2.25 billion project.

“There’s still a long way to go to understand the entire project,” he said.

The study, commissioned by All Aboard Florida, examined how construction along the 235-mile corridor would benefit the eight counties it passes through.

Orange County is the biggest winner, according to the report, with a $555.2 million economic boost and 1,799 construction jobs. Indian River County would see the least benefit, a $121.4 million cash infusion and 392 construction jobs. Elsewhere along the Treasure Coast, Martin County would see a $142.8 million impact and 464 jobs and St. Lucie County would receive a $122.8 million shot in the arm along with 398 jobs, according to the study.

Overall, according to the study, All Aboard Florida would have a $6.4 billion direct economic impact on Florida’s economy over the next eight years.

“Dollars spent in the local economy are important,” Smith said, “but not everyone sees or feels the economic impact. It’s up to the people to determine in their own minds whether it’s good or not good for us.”

Virginia-based railroad consultant Charles Banks was more blunt: “If you don’t have a station, there’s not a hell of a lot in it for you.”

And that’s been a bone of contention for residents of the Treasure Coast. All Aboard Florida’s only stations between Miami and Orlando would be in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Railroad officials have said they’d consider adding stations after the rail line has been in operation for some time.

Yet dangling that carrot comes with a downside that All Aboard Florida — which repeatedly says keeping its trip to three hours is its “sweet spot” — likely never would consider, according to Banks.

“If you put in too many stations, service deteriorates,” he said.

“It’s not a political issue, and it shouldn’t be,” he said, “but it’s incredibly frustrating to the (Treasure Coast) counties. There’s not a direct benefit.”

Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari compared the predicted economic benefit to the 2009 federal stimulus program.

“It’s nice to have jobs during construction, but it’s a short-term fix and doesn’t help anything long-term,” Solari said.

Solari and his fellow county commissioners earlier this month rescinded their support of All Aboard Florida.

The study, he said Wednesday, “is one-sided. It shows the benefits. It shows the numbers, but not the burdens. It’s not the first time we’ve heard about short-term jobs, but there’s an imbalance between short term and long term. There’s a loss in property values and in ad valorem taxes.”

Martin County’s Smith is insistent that more and better information will, at least, allow people to use facts to make their ultimate decisions.

“There’s a lot of emotion,” he said, “but when the facts are known, as much as possible, we can have a much more comprehensive discussion of the entire project.”

Solari agreed.

All Aboard Florida “never has been forthcoming with real economic information (about) long-term burdens,” he said. “This (report) is only half the story. It’s hard to tell how the story will end without the other half of the information.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014 - 9:15am

Commissioner Smith, At the AAF Public Forum last Thursday at the Blake Library in Stuart, the last question to the panel from a woman in the audience was: "I would like to leave here on a positive note, so is there anything positive that AAF will bring to the Treasure Coast?" Silence. The moderator turned to Rusty Roberts from AAF and said: "Rusty?" More silence. And that is how the meeting ended.

AAF and increased freight trains are no boon for the Treasure Coast; just a boondoggle. No public monies should fund the AAF/FECI infrastructure upgrades. Safety concerns and quality of life issues must take precedence. High speed rail intersecting with at-grade crossings is a recipe for disaster. Stop AAF.

Do you really think AAF is going to tell the other half of the story? It is negative for the Treasure Coast, it is a scam on taxpayers dollars, it is corporate greed at the expense of others. They are going to continue dishing out elementary graphs and glossy rosy numbers pulled out of thin air. Wake up and write your local and state officials, especially Smith, and tell them NO.

If I had construction work available I certainly would not give it to any company doing any work for AAF and helping to wreck the place I live. How about it - would you? A laughable number of construction jobs spread among all those counties. And any construction person or company with any ethics at all would refuse work from this company. Money does not buy everything and there are people who actually have a whole lot more backbone than these cowardly truth-twisters. A lot of people would turn down work that goes against what they believe in and what they think is the right thing to do. Also, who wants to pay $300 to take a train and then have to pay a fortune to rent a car at the other end? Is this a train service for millionaires, being paid for on the backs of millions of people who will never set foot on their trains? You know - the 1/4th of the 1%...???? If that idea doesn't get your back up then you must be one of them.