Robert Crandall, TCPalm
Truth really is stranger than fiction, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
Especially when it comes to the All Aboard Florida rail project.
On Monday, the Florida Development Finance Corp. — a quasi-governmental agency also known as the FDFC — hosted a public hearing in Tallahassee on AAF’s request for $1.75 billion in private activity bonds. The stated purpose of this hearing, according to FDFC: “To provide a reasonable opportunity for interested parties to express their views” on the proposed issuance of these tax-exempt bonds, which the backers of AAF need to move forward.
The kicker? None of the five members of the finance development corporation — including the three members recently appointed by Gov. Rick Scott — even bothered to show up. Simply put, the finance agency was just going through the motions.
And so it goes with All Aboard Florida. Since its inception, AAF and its backers have shown a profound lack of regard for the public — the Floridians who actually live, work and pay taxes here. If you’ve been following the headlines, you already know that residents have a laundry list of concerns about AAF, which proposes to run 32 daily passenger trains between Miami and Orlando starting in 2017. The upgraded tracks would also carry more and longer freight trains.
The public’s worries include both safety and quality of life — and opponents of AAF had plenty to say about both on Monday.
More rail traffic means more closed gates at crossings, which means more and longer waits for everybody — including ambulances, firetrucks and other emergency first responders.
The public’s concerns have only been intensified by the fact that some of AAF’s claims and statements are perilously close to out-and-out misinformation.
Take AAF’s bond application — the one that was discussed on Monday at the finance development corporation hearing that finance corporation members did not attend. AAF says it plans to use the proceeds in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Brevard and Orange counties. By excluding Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties from the application, AAF officials were able to claim no local government (city, county, special district, etc.) objected to issuing bonds for the project, as Treasure Coast Newspapers wrote in an April 13 editorial.
“Though technically correct,” this newspaper noted, “the response is disingenuous and misleading. It gives the impression there is little or no opposition to the rail project.”
Slick talk on a government application may fly with AAF supporters.
But Floridians who will have to live with the very real and severe consequences of this ill-conceived project have a right to expect greater candor.
Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE-FL), a local group that opposes AAF (I am on the Steering Committee), recently commissioned Mason-Dixon Polling & Research to ask people how they feel about the AAF project. The findings reveal four out of every five registered voters in the Treasure Coast and North Palm Beach County — 80 percent — oppose AAF.
Notably, 68 percent are “strongly opposed.” Party affiliation had no bearing: Opposition was fully bipartisan, noted Mason-Dixon, one of the oldest and most respected pollsters in the state.
Safety, perhaps not surprisingly, was a top concern: 59 percent believe AAF will slow down response times for police, fire and medical emergency units in the communities along the tracks. Complete poll results, along with details about how the poll was conducted, can be found on the CARE website.
Interestingly, the poll also found 65 percent of those surveyed would be “less likely” to vote for their local elected official in the next election if he or she supports it. That means, most likely, that residents won’t be the only ones feeling the heat should AAF go forward — elected officials who support this misguided project also will pay a price.
And rightly so.
Robert Crandall is the former chairman and CEO of American Airlines.