The federal government is viewed by many on the Treasure Coast as an enabler of the All Aboard Florida project.
The very notion the federal government may provide a loan for the rail project is offensive to many Treasure Coast residents.
Recently, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, attempted to reform the federal loan process for railroad projects — a process skewed heavily toward the railroads that often ignores the concerns of local communities.
“The congressman is concerned about how close the Florida East Coast Railway tracks are to neighborhoods and adjacent roads, and how the All Aboard Florida project will affect safety and traffic,” said George Cecala, Posey’s spokesman who also handles transportation issues. “He also is concerned how taxpayers’ dollars are being spent.
“We saw an opportunity to make some corrections.”
Consequently, Posey offered three amendments to the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015. The amendments would:
1. Cap the amount for Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loans authorized by the U.S. Department of Transportation to a single railroad in a five-year period at $600 million.
All Aboard Florida is seeking to raise $1.75 billion through private activity bonds. But it also has a request on the table for a $1.6 billion federal loan.
2. Prohibit the Department of Transportation from authorizing exempt facility bonds for high-speed passenger rail unless the project meets the definition of “high speed”: trains that can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour.
All Aboard Florida, which plans to begin running 32 daily passenger trains between Miami and Orlando in early 2017, has said its trains will reach speeds of 90 to 110 mph — not, technically, high speed.
3. Require the federal government to obtain a resolution of support from each county government through which a rail project will operate before providing a direct loan or loan guarantee.
Two county governments on the Treasure Coast — Indian River and Martin counties — are preparing for a legal battle against All Aboard Florida. Officials with the third, St. Lucie, also have serious concerns.
Unfortunately, Posey’s amendments failed.
The congressman is to be applauded for attempting to reform the federal loan process for rail projects. We encourage him to continue fighting to insert these much-needed reforms into federal law.