CHARLES GERARDI - TCPALM
A storm is brewing. With or without All Aboard Florida, the likelihood of increased rail traffic rumbling through our community is real.
Even at current volumes, congestion from rail traffic impacts automobiles, boats and emergency response vehicles, is disruptive to our quality of life and impedes safety efforts.
We applaud the efforts of Treasure Coast counties, citizens groups and neighborhoods who have staunchly opposed All Aboard Florida. The Economic Council of Martin County reaffirms our wholehearted support in this opposition.
Despite the potential economic benefits of expanded passenger rails to communities south of us, this project has, from its inception, offered no benefit to the communities along the Treasure Coast. The negative impacts, however, are many.
Nonetheless, there appears to be little we can do to stop this project from moving forward. And while we don't advocate giving up the fight, we do believe it's time to begin asking for all we can for our community before it's too late. The Economic Council wants to see this happen by expanding the public dialogue with All Aboard Florida, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Florida Department of Transportation.
The Economic Council of Martin County joins the Martin County Taxpayers Association in its recent challenge to our local governmental leaders to begin planning for this inevitable future now.
Here are our five recommendations to help ensure our safe, convenient and economically-improved future:
1. Engage the Metropolitan Planning Organization and FDOT in open discussion on grade-level improvements (i.e., an overpass or underpass) at the major Monterey Road/Dixie Highway artery in Stuart to relieve traffic congestion and create a viable emergency response option.
2. Evaluate additional structural and mechanical improvements to raise the height of at least a portion of the Old Roosevelt Bridge in Stuart to ensure the long-term safety of the structure, and to allow increased capacity for smaller vessels to pass under the bridge during "down" times.
3. Encourage transparent public dialogue with FDOT with regards to a long-term (20-year) plan to evaluate future freight and passenger service options for an alternative western corridor.
4. Engage the major communities along the Treasure Coast in collaborative discussions to prioritize potential future passenger rail stops — perhaps staggered daily schedules in Stuart and Fort Pierce — which would create new economic development opportunities for our region.
5. Martin County and/or the city of Stuart should now begin conversations with All Aboard Florida with regard to funding quiet zones through the county. A timely petition asking AAF to fund these quiet zones is critical. Once infrastructure construction begins in early 2016, any such improvements will require costly change orders at the taxpayers' expense.
As it relates to the possibility of All Aboard Florida ultimately being halted in the courts, we believe "hope" is no longer a real strategy. By working together right now with the appropriate agencies to protect our quality of life, we may be able to ensure a safe and convenient future for our community.
As we all know, the best preparation for a storm is planning ahead.
Charles Gerardi is president and CEO of the Economic Council of Martin County.