By Steve Bousquet
Gov. Rick Scott on Monday called on developers of a private railroad project to take more steps in response to questions and concerns of residents living who may be affected by All Aboard Florida, the first passenger train service on Florida's east coast in five decades.
Scott wrote to the project's president, Mike Reininger, on the same day that the Times/Herald published a story detailing the intense level of resistance, including formal opposition by Martin and Indian River counties and several towns along the route. All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 trains daily beginning in late 2016 between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
His office has received a flurry of critical mail from constituents about the venture. Scott's press office put this headline on the news release about the letter: "The Voices of Our Communities Must be Heard."
"In response to local communities' questions about All Aboard Florida, we must ensure that there is a detailed conversation about this new rail service. Many families are worried about how these additional trains will affect their neighborhoods and their concerns should be heard," Scott wrote.
Scott said he has asked state transportation secretary Ananth Prasad to meet with community leaders and legislators about the project "and ensure their voices are heard" by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the lead agency on the project and the agency that All Aboard Florida has asked for a $1.5 billion federal loan. He also asked that All Aboard Florida extend the public comment period on the project from 75 to 90 days to give residents "more opportunity to have their specific concerns addressed."
Scott's letter is a formal acknowledgement of the high level of concern among residents in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast counties of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River. The governor last week indicated that he wanted the train venture to be "successful," but he emphasized that the company should listen closely to residents' concerns.
Martin and Indian River are medium-sized and reliably Republican counties that favored Scott in 2010. St. Lucie is a larger Democratic county that opposed Scott in 2010 and Palm Beach, the state's third-largest county, is strongly Democratic.
In his letter, Scott specifically cited the effect the trains could have on boat traffic because of their impact on railroad drawbridges over the New River, St. Lucie River and Loxahatchee River. He concluded by telling Reininger to "please be sensitive to the impact of additional rail traffic in the rail corridor to our communities, their home values and public safety." The full text of the governor's letter is here.