MARKETPLACE IS FINAL HOPE OF TREASURE COAST RESIDENTS TO STOP ALL ABOARD FLORIDA

Publish Date: 
Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 11:00am

The final environmental impact statement on the All Aboard Florida project, released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration, is everything I expected it to be: a whitewash of the facts, a minimization of impacts to our region, and a rubber-stamping of the project.

In short, the report is a JOKE.

The entire process has been a CHARADE.

The system has failed Treasure Coast residents opposed to All Aboard Florida. The only real hope, at this point, to stop the Miami-to-Orlando rail project lies with the marketplace:

Will All Aboard Florida find buyers for its $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds? On Wednesday, the Florida Development Finance Corp. — the quasi-governmental agency charged with deciding whether the rail company can sell the bonds — gave unanimous approval to the sale at the end of an eight-hour meeting in Orlando.

Will the rail company recruit enough passengers to become financially viable?

Treasure Coast residents fought a valiant battle. There were more than 15,400 comments in response to the draft environmental impact statement, which was released in September 2014. Almost two-thirds of the comments — 9,500 — were in opposition and “most came from individuals ... living, working or having property interests in the project study area, particularly residents of Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties,” according to the report.

We fought a good fight. However, the outcome now lies with forces beyond our power to influence. Truth be told, we never had much power to influence this project.

It’s difficult to read the final environmental impact statement without getting angry. Some statements make your blood boil. Here’s one: “The project would have an overall beneficial effect on public health, safety and security to the rail corridor.”

Who in their right mind believes 32 daily passenger trains, traveling at points in excess of 100 mph, will have an overall beneficial effect on public health, safety and security?

Potential impacts to our region are identified — then dismissed as inconsequential. For example, with respect to vehicle traffic, the report states: “The (north-south) corridor would result in some degradation in levels of service at the grade crossings and intersections studied. ... With just three trains crossings per hour, the majority of each hour of operation would not be affected by the introduction of passenger train service.”

Other impacts deemed significant in the report will be mitigated by All Aboard Florida.

“The movable bridges (St. Lucie River and the Loxahatchee River) would be closed more frequently to accommodate the increased number of trains,” the report states.

No problem.

“(All Aboard Florida) is proposing to mitigate for this increased closure time by implementing new measures to notify mariners ... and to make closure times more predictable. These mitigation measures will reduce delays and help to reduce queue lengths and times.”

And so it goes.

It’s almost as if All Aboard Florida had a hand in the creation of the final report.

Oh wait. It did.

The report says All Aboard Florida selected and paid “a qualified consultant approved by (the Federal Railroad Administration) to assist (the agency) in preparing the environmental impact statement.”

The final report and decision by the finance board constitute a double blow for train opponents, who held out hope one or both would create an insurmountable obstacle for All Aboard Florida.

But no obstacles materialized.

Legal challenges by Indian River and Martin counties, which earmarked $4.1 million to fight All Aboard Florida, have proved disappointing and, to date, inconsequential.

The marketplace now will decide the fate of All Aboard Florida.

Hopefully, train opponents will get better results than we did from an intransigent government bureaucracy seemingly bent on facilitating the completion of this project.