Posted: 5:24 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, 2014
By Kimberly Miller - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it clear this week that All Aboard Florida’s express passenger rail service will receive no state subsidies and said he supports giving communities more time to comment on the $2.5 billion project.
In a Monday letter to All Aboard Florida President Michael Reininger, Scott clarifies that $10 million put in the state’s budget this year will go to local governments to pay for safety upgrades at train crossings, not All Aboard Florida.
The money, which must be matched by requesting municipalities, was approved by Florida lawmakers to allow for quiet zones at crossings.
“I want to be clear on a critical point: the All Aboard Florida proposal is a private sector venture to construct, operate and maintain a passenger rail system,” Scott wrote. “There will be no state subsidies for this project.”
All Aboard Florida is proposing to run 16 roundtrip trains per day from Miami to Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The trains would travel between 79 mph and 110 mph from Miami to Cocoa and up to 125 mph to Orlando.
Some residents of northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are opposing the project, citing concerns with safety, noise, traffic backups and waterway congestion if aging bridges that need to be lowered for additional trains block boats for longer periods of time.
Jim Weix, a Palm City resident whose office is in Stuart, said he fears Martin County property values will be hurt by an increase in trains.
“As it is now, boats on their way to go fishing, or to popular boating spots on the river, are sometimes backed up for up to an hour,” Weix said. “Although the All Aboard Florida train may be faster than a freight train, the ancient railroad trestle is not.”
Scott emphasized the boating concerns in his letter.
“Florida has over a thousand miles of coastline, and access to the water for boating is one of the things that make Florida so special,” Scott wrote.
All Aboard Florida said in a statement Tuesday that it is working with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Coast Guard to “determine the impact and mitigation measures that will allow rail traffic and the marine industries” to coexist.
Reininger also responded to Scott’s letter on Tuesday, saying that All Aboard Florida does not expect any public subsidies from the state, but is aware of misinformation and “erroneous assumptions” that have led to specific concerns not based in fact.
One concern has been the idea that money was given to All Aboard Florida for a stop at the Orlando International Airport. About $214 million is earmarked for the construction of an intermodal center at the airport, but the center has been in the works for more than a decade and would be built regardless of whether All Aboard Florida opens, the Florida Department of Transportation said.
All Aboard Florida has applied for a $1.5 billion Federal Railroad Administration loan, which requires an environmental impact study be completed. The study could be released as early as this month.
The FRA has agreed to extend the public comment period following release of the study from 45 days to 75 days. But with the project running through eight counties, some community leaders are pushing for 90 days.
Scott made the same request of Reininger, and All Aboard Florida said Tuesday that it also would support expanding the comment period to 90 days.
Late Tuesday, the Railroad Administration released a statement that said 75 days will provide ample time to comment. But that “should it be necessary, we will revisit the duration of the comment period after the Draft Environmental Impact Statement is released to the public.”
Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan said 90 days is needed because people are still unaware of the scope of the project.
“It is my understanding that the environmental impact statement document will have in excess of 1,000 pages of information to be analyzed and comprehended,” Brennan said. “A ninety day review period is far from being excessive and the public must be afforded as much time as possible to be educated about All Aboard Florida and to have their voices heard.”
Scott clarifies no state subsidies for All Aboard Florida
Posted: 5:24 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, 2014