By Kim Miller of The Palm Beach Post - full story here
The Town of Jupiter Island is adding its voice to the rising opposition of All Aboard Florida’s express passenger rail service, saying the plan will impede emergency vehicles, increase noise pollution, reduce property values and cause safety risks to nearby schools.
In a letter written this week to US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Jupiter Island Mayor Harry G. Charlston implores him to carefully review the project, which will add 32 trains per day to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks beginning in 2016.
All Aboard Florida, a private company, will run trains from Miami to Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, but is dependent on getting a $1.5 billion Federal Railroad Administration loan to begin the service. It also is putting in $1 billion of its own funds.
The Town of Jupiter Island, which is in the south end of Martin County, has about 820 residents and some of the most expensive real estate in Southeast Florida. It has counted famed singer Celine Dion and golfer Tiger Woods as residents.
“The town is concerned how elevated noise pollution from the increased speeds and more frequent train activity will diminish the town’s quality of life and subsequent effects upon property values,” Charlston wrote. “All Aboard Florida is simply too costly _ to our tax dollars, to our quality of life, and to our personal safety.”
All Aboard Florida trains are expected to pass through road crossings in less than a minute, but Charlston said he fears a possible increase in freight traffic combined with the passenger trains will cause frequent closures to the only mainland access road Jupiter Island has to its north.
According to an environmental assessment conducted on areas from Miami to West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County’s train crossings would be closed 67 minutes per day during the opening year of All Aboard Florida service. That’s with 14 freight trains and 12 passenger trains running one way, and with two gate closings per hour.
By 2035, the assessment estimates the crossings would be closed a total of 111 minutes in Palm Beach County with 22 freight trains and 16 passenger trains running.
“Gridlock poses concerns beyond convenience,” Charlston wrote. “Traffic backups from lengthy and frequent rail delays could significantly delay EMS and fire emergency response times, shaving precious moments from the famed ‘golden hour’ where expert treatment of a traumatic injury is most likely to save lives.”
Several communities north of West Palm Beach have voiced concern or outright opposition to All Aboard Florida’s plan. The Indian River Board of County Commissioners withdrew its support of the project earlier this month, followed by a resolution from the City of Port St. Lucie that said commissioners fear All Aboard Florida’s effect on the community. Village of Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan said her community will be affected “only to the detriment of its health, safety and welfare.”
An economic impact report released this week by the company claims a statewide $6.4 billion boost to Florida’s economy through 2021 with long-term benefits focused in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
And All Aboard Florida has committed to improving crossings so that less obtrusive wayside horns or quiet zones would be allowed.
“The benefits accrued to the state and to the counties serviced along the corridor go beyond the quantifications of economic impact by encouraging further business development and providing support to key Florida industries such as travel and hospitality, while also improving the mobility of the labor force,” said economist Tony Villamil, whose firm Washington Economics Group, wrote the economic impact report.
An environmental impact statement on All Aboard Florida is expected to be released in the next several weeks by the Federal Railroad Administration.