U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is in a tough spot on the All Aboard Florida plan for high-speed passenger rail on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks through the heart of her district in coastal Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Frankel represents Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, where there’s lots of support for the project because the proposed high-speed train service from Miami to Orlando would stop in both of those cities.
She also represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach where, Frankel said, there’s lots of opposition.
So does she support or oppose All Aboard?
“I am trying to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative,” she said Monday during an interview with a Sun Sentinel reporter and editorial writers. “That’s the best I can do, really.”
She described it as a Catch-22.
“In Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach it could have a very positive impact in terms of development in our area,” Frankel said. “The cities in between are yelling, especially Delray and Boca are very upset. The train goes right through Delray’s eating district.”
Frankel said she’s met with many supporters and opponents as well officials with the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. transportation secretary.
“The big concerns with the stakeholders were concerns about noise and traffic interference,” she said. Frankel, a former mayor of West Palm Beach, said she was not happy about the part of the plan that calls for closing Datura and Evernia streets in city’s downtown.
Frankel said she’s supported efforts by some of the stakeholders who would be affected by the train service but not necessarily benefit in their efforts at “pushing back.” She said those efforts have “really gained them some concessions.”
Efforts to ameliorate the effects include getting more upgrades to rail crossings, which would allow more so-called quiet zones where trains don’t have to sound their horns for safety reasons.
Frankel said the planned upgrade of the New River Bridge in Fort Lauderdale and the addition of a bridge tender should help alleviate some of the concerns of a marine industry worried about passing trains blocking water traffic.
Frankel was more skeptical of a third All Aboard promise, that the northbound and southbound trains over the New River would be scheduled to cross at the same time. Frankel said she uses Tri-Rail constantly when she’s in the district, so she knows that trains don’t always run on time.
All aboard plans to run 32 passenger trains a day -- 16 each way – starting in late 2016 between Miami and West Palm Beach.
Frankel said she’s concerned about what may happen in another 10 or 15 years. Freight traffic on the tracks is projected to increase, if All Aboard is successful it will add more trains, and commuter rail service has been discussed for the tracks. Eventually, she said, “we could have 90 trains” a day.