By Jennifer Sorentrue Palm Beach Post
A statewide environmental group is raising objections to All Aboard Florida’s planned express passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando, arguing the project could harm the quality of life along the state’s southeast coast. The non-profit 1000 Friends of Florida last week called on federal rail officials to revise a federal study evaluating the environmental impacts of the project. “The quality of life issues of importance to us would be adversely impacted by the proposed project in the North-South Corridor given the information currently available,” the group wrote in a two-page letter to the Federal Railroad Administration. “We reach this conclusion in light of negative economic impacts to the marine industry, and public and private land values.”
The Nov. 28 letter was among roughly 8,000 comments federal rail officials have received as part of the lengthy study, known as an environmental impact statement. The Federal Railroad Administration released a draft version of the study in September, and immediately began accepting comments from the public about the document. The 75-day public comment period closed Wednesday.
In its letter, 1000 Friends argued the draft study was “at best incomplete,” saying that the final review needs “substantial, additional information.”
The nonprofit argues All Aboard Florida’s plan to run 32 express trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway would harm marine businesses and delay emergency vehicles that need to cross over the tracks.
The group also questions whether the All Aboard Florida’s trains would reduce traffic congestion along Interstate 95. State projections show I-95 will be over capacity, the group argues.
All Aboard Florida plans to begin service from Miami to West Palm Beach in late 2016 with the Orlando leg starting in 2017.
Construction on the private rail company’s station in downtown West Palm Beach began last month. Demolition crews have finished knocking down buildings at the site, near Datura and Evernia streets west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.
In January, All Aboard Florida will close railroad crossings at Datura and Evernia streets just west of Quadrille Boulevard, a main thoroughfare through downtown that runs past the county courthouse, city library and City Hall. The closures are needed to construct the 60,000-square-foot station.