By Charles Gerardi TCPalm
The Economic Council of Martin County has thoroughly evaluated the All Aboard Florida discussion from both sides of the issue.
While we appreciate the positive impact the project affords the state as a whole, as well as the origination cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, for Martin County and the Treasure Coast, it would appear we receive all of the negative impact with little, if any, economic benefit.
Most significantly, the increased delays at railway crossings, which will hinder medical emergency first responders, their at-risk patients and the doctors and nurses who care for them, gives us cause for great concern. Additionally, we are greatly concerned about the disruption to marine traffic in our waterways.
And with no planned stop in Downtown Stuart on the horizon, the project offers no tangible economic benefit to our region in the near term. In fact, the AAF plan fails to adequately address the potential loss of 100 or more parking spaces in Downtown Stuart on land the city now leases from Florida East Coast Industries.
Further, the environmental impact statement fails to adequately evaluate (or consider) alternative western route options, which would be significantly less disruptive to our quality of life along the waterfront in Martin County. The report also fails to adequately address the impact to boat traffic and safety in and around the St. Lucie River Bridge in Stuart. And the report ignores the potential delays associated with longer and more frequent stoppages at major rail crossings, which will hinder emergency response, not to mention daily commuter traffic.
AAF says locomotive and passenger cars already are being manufactured and, with construction of shiny new passenger rail stations already underway in the major metropolitan markets in South Florida, it would appear the proverbial ‘train has left the station' and is headed our way in early 2017.
But it's not too late to consider smarter, more collaborative options that would help to protect the waterway-based quality of life and commerce the Treasure Coast was built on, while not significantly altering the ultimate goal of transporting passengers (and more importantly, freight) between Miami and Orlando.
Now is the time for state and local government, business leaders, citizens and special interests in the Treasure Coast to come together as one voice at the table with All Aboard Florida, the FEC and FRA in developing responsible solutions to the issues we'll soon be facing — including, most importantly, a more thorough evaluation of the western CSX corridor, infrastructure upgrades to our bridges and roads, the creation of ‘quiet zones' at our crossings, the development of alternative traffic route options, public safety enhancements and emergency communications systems.
Ultimately, the Economic Council of Martin County encourages this collaboration in order for the Treasure Coast to be a more effective partner with neighboring communities as part of the jigsaw puzzle that is All Aboard Florida. And if at some point in the future there is to be a true passenger-only rail stop in Downtown Stuart, then the freight trains need to be running out west where the lifestyle of our nearly 140,000 residents is not adversely affected.