By Rich Campbell Aug 7 2014 TCPalm
Residents and officials in Sebastian, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, St. Lucie Village and other communities along the Florida East Coast rail line — LISTEN UP! All Aboard Florida — the planned high-speed passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando slated to begin operation in 2016 — could bring a significant disruption to traffic flow in downtown Stuart. Why should others who live along the rail line care? Because the recommendation of an engineering group — a group in which All Aboard Florida participated — may foreshadow changes coming to other communities. Moreover, Stuart officials lacked solid information about the potential change until they sent a specific, detailed request to the rail company. All Aboard Florida could be sitting on information relevant to residents in other counties in our region.
Stuart officials learned Monday — in a letter from Vinay Mudholkar, All Aboard Florida’s vice president for infrastructure — that a key left-turn lane could be removed permanently at Confusion Corner once the rail company begins construction on a second track through downtown.
City residents are hyperventilating over the revelation — and rightfully so.
“I can’t imagine the traffic tie-up if we lose that left turn, which we use all the time,” Jensen Beach resident Sharyn Eggert Cerniglia wrote on my Facebook page. “Why on earth should I have to drive over the tracks, around the circle, and back over the tracks again to make a right when I could have just made a left before any of that? It’s just plain stupid.”
Motorists heading north on South Colorado Avenue toward downtown often use the left-turn lane just short of the tracks to access Dixie Highway and cross the old Roosevelt bridge. However, a significant portion of the left-turn lane is in the railroad right of way, and an engineering team comprised of All Aboard Florida and federal, state and city representatives has recommended closing the turn lane “to improve the safety of motorists,” Mudholkar wrote.
The loss of the left-turn lane won’t necessarily add congestion on Colorado when the rail crossing is closed. Even now with the turn lane, traffic backs up on northbound Colorado and blocks access to the left-turn lane when trains bring downtown traffic to a halt. However, eliminating the turn lane and funneling all northbound vehicles across the tracks will add congestion in the roundabout.
Just what we need in downtown Stuart ... more vehicles navigating the roundabout at Confusion Corner.
Stuart officials, like their counterparts in other governments along the rail line, have been seeking specific, concrete information for months from All Aboard Florida on possible changes to be wrought by the rail project.
The information about the potential left-turn lane closure at Confusion Corner was disclosed Monday in Mudholkar’s letter to Stuart City Manager Paul Nicoletti. What prompted Mudholkar’s response? A July 30, missive from Nicoletti to All Aboard Florida.
“At this point, we are looking specifically for a response concerning certain other matters involving primarily our downtown,” Nicoletti wrote. With respect to the Confusion Corner issue, Nicoletti was direct: “Please advise us if the FEC intends to require the closing of this left-turn option.”
To its credit, All Aboard Florida responded in less than a week.
But one wonders: How long did All Aboard Florida sit on this information before Nicoletti tendered his request? This is, after all, information that matters to Stuart officials and residents.
The lesson for other local governments on the Treasure Coast? If you’re not getting specific information you need with respect to the rail project, make a direct, written appeal to All Aboard Florida.
Stuart officials still may be able to retain the left-turn lane.
“If we start further back on Colorado, we could reconfigure it to provide a left turn,” Nicoletti said.
“It’s little things like this that All Aboard Florida doesn’t realize can be big issues,” Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald said. “It’s little changes like this that will alter the way we live in our communities.”