Arnie Rosenberg July 31 TCPalm
All Aboard Florida has a “communication and information gap” with the public, and its top brass needs to get engaged with individuals and groups that oppose the high-speed-rail project, Florida’s top transportation official said Thursday. In an exclusive interview with Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers, Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, said All Aboard Florida may have “underestimated” public concerns over the $2.25 billion project.
“I think that’s a little bit of the problem with All Aboard Florida,” Prasad said after two days in the Treasure Coast and South Florida to hear the concerns of public officials and organized All Aboard Florida opposition groups. “They’ve been talking through the news media and news articles and press releases rather than rolling up their sleeves and getting engaged.”
He said Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida president and chief development officer; and Hussein Cumber, executive vice president, corporate development, for All Aboard Florida parent company Florida East Coast Industries, “need to go meet face-to-face and work through these issues. There are issues. You can’t run from them.”
Over the two days Prasad met with K.C. Traylor, founder of the main opposition group Florida Not All Aboard; Martin County Commissioner Sarah Heard; St. Lucie County Commissioner Frannie Hutchinson; Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan; Jupiter Mayor Karen Golanka; and Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams. Scheduling kept him from meeting with CARE FL, a group comprising gated communities in southern Martin County and northern Palm Beach County.
Criticism of the Miami-to-Orlando rail project has centered on safety, traffic, the impact on property values, the cost to local communities and the impact on the boating community, particularly in Martin County.
Gov. Rick Scott last month called on All Aboard Florida to be “sensitive to the impact of additional rail traffic in the rail corridor to our communities, their home values and public safety,” and asked Prasad to meet with community leaders and area legislators.
In fact, Traylor took Prasad on a boat on the St. Lucie River, where a train was crossing the single-track bridge.
“I honestly feel that the message got through. I have high hopes,” Traylor said. “I hope he takes our concerns back to the governor and he takes a stronger position for community concerns.
“He doesn’t have a vote, but he does have a voice,” she said of Scott.
Brennan said Prasad stressed the state “would do all in its power to assure inclusion of every possible safety means and that it would be paid for by All Aboard Florida.”
“He very definitely was concerned with what we were saying,” she said.
“The idea of coming down and meeting with folks is so they can hear it from me,” Prasad said. “Sitting across from them, and hopefully me answering their questions, they felt that we were very straight up and that I’m sincere. That doesn’t mean the problems are solved. But we’re defining the problems, defining the framework.
“You’ve got to communicate. All I can do is continue to explain that we care about it. We try not to run away from people who ask tough questions.”
“Obviously there’s a lot of concern in the communities,” Prasad said. “When there’s that much concern in our communities, I think All Aboard Florida leadership needs to roll up their sleeves. They need to cooperatively work toward addressing everybody’s issues.”