By Arnie Rosenberg TC Palm September 30, 2014
Rep. Patrick Murphy is casting doubt on the facts in the All Aboard Florida draft Environmental Impact Statement and challenging the remedies the railroad proposes for a raft of potential problems.
In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Murphy, D-Jupiter, called for an independent review of the report, in part after learning “that there is no third-party analysis of the facts in the EIS.”
Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reported exclusively Sunday that the consultant hired to conduct much of the 522-page report was selected and paid for by All Aboard Florida even though the contractor was approved by the Federal Railroad Administration and reported to the FRA.
Murphy said he believes “there should be an analysis prepared by an independent body not funded or associated with AAF to provide our community with confidence in the process and allow all of our concerns to be heard.”
Questions still unanswered focus on All Aboard Florida’s ability to repay a $1.6 billion federal loan; the time closed drawbridges would block marine navigation; the increased time, in some cases nearly triple, trains would shut down grade crossings; and potentially life-or-death delays for first responders.
“The EIS clearly lays out these significant problems and many more, but it lacks adequate solutions,” Murphy wrote. “To make matters worse, these negative impacts disproportionately affect regions that will reap no benefit from 32 daily passenger trains.”
All Aboard Florida, the proposed high-speed passenger-rail system, plans to eventually run 16 daily round trips between Miami and Orlando. By late 2016, service would begin between Miami and West Palm Beach. It would be extended to Orlando International Airport by late 2017, with trains running up to 110 mph through the Treasure Coast and up to 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.
Release of the Environmental Impact Statement Sept. 19 triggered a 75-day public-comment period. Both Murphy and Gov. Rick Scott have asked for an extension to 90 days. The Federal Railroad Administration has stuck with the 75-day period, saying an extension to 90 days is possible if needed.
Eight meetings, from Miami to Orlando, are schedule from Oct. 27 to Nov. 13.
Tuesday’s letter is not Murphy’s first time taking his concerns about All Aboard Florida directly to the nation’s top transportation official. He and Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, met with Foxx on April 7 to express their concerns as opposition to All Aboard Florida — primarily along the Treasure Coast and in northern Palm Beach County — was building.
Letter from Murphy to Foxx
Dear Secretary Foxx:
Thank you for speaking with me again regarding my opposition to the proposed All Aboard Florida (AAF) passenger rail service. As we discussed, residents throughout the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast have serious concerns about the project’s detrimental effects to public safety, quality-of-life, and the local economy. Although Floridians were assured that these concerns would be addressed and dealt with in the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), this 522-page document raised more questions than answers.
As the FRA evaluates AAF’s application for more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded federal loans, it is vital that these concerns are properly factored. This request is among the largest of its kind in history, and due to the risk associated with its size and AAF’s viability, I believe a more thorough analysis of the financial viability of the payment of the loan is required. On top of the risks to the taxpayer, the EIS fails to adequately address a number of the issues we discussed in April, further validating the community’s concerns. For instance, AAF stands to double the amount of time local drawbridges will block marine navigation, costing boaters hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. At certain crossings, it will triple the amount of Grade-F traffic gridlock at peak hours. It will effectively blockade those in need of emergency treatment from their hospitals, under circumstances in which a delay of one minute can mean the difference between life and death.
The EIS clearly lays out these significant problems and many more, but it lacks adequate solutions. To make matters worse, these negative impacts disproportionately affect regions that will reap no benefit from 32 daily passenger trains. Further, upon learning that there is no third-party analysis of the facts in the EIS, I am concerned that the data and mitigation proposed is not thorough. I would strongly urge you to not only extend the comment period to 90 days, but believe there should be an analysis prepared by an independent body not funded or associated with AAF to provide our community with confidence in the process and allow all of our concerns to be heard.
For these reasons, I am opposed to this plan that stands to negatively impact the Treasure Coast-Palm Beach district I am so proud to represent. I appreciate your continued responsiveness and attention to these serious concerns.
Patrick E. Murphy
MEMBER OF CONGRESS