News

All Aboard Florida Impact Open to Comments October 14, 2014

Marine Industries Association of South Florida has been very clear of conditions needed to continue the navigation past the FEC railroad bridge in the face of increased use by All Aboard Florida, growing freight cargo from expanding ports and the future addition of the Coastal Link.

  1. Guarantee current FEC Bridge is in the open position a minimum of 40 minutes of each hour
  1. Bridge tender with operational control
  1. Identify the corridor capacity (maximum amount of passenger and freight trains)and reach an agreement that caps now and future use of existing bridge/ FEC tracks
  1. Identify agency to take control of bridge operation if agreed conditions are not complied with. (IE USCG)

These are the minimum comments MIASF believes are needed to insure protection of the marine businesses up river from the bridge. Additional comments will be reflected in EIS response which are being refined by our State and Federal lobbyists and the economist who has studied the economic impact of the industry.

The information below has been taken from the DEIS and All Aboard Florida and is for information only. It should not be considered an endorsement by MIASF in any form. 

The U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on September 19 reporting on All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) proposed passenger rail project. FRA issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) in January 2013 for Phase I of AAF’s Project, which would provide rail service on the 66.5 miles between West Palm Beach and Miami. Although the DEIS was initiated for Phase II of the Project, (West Palm Beach to Orlando), the document analyzes the cumulative effects of both phases of the Project since train operations will cover the full corridor between Miami and Orlando.

AAF’s Project would construct and operate a privately owned and operated 235-mile intercity passenger railroad system to connect Orlando with Miami, with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It would be implemented in phases and includes adding double track to existing rail right-of-way between Cocoa and Miami and building a new rail right-of way between Cocoa and Orlando. The Project would include 32 passenger trains daily and travel between 79 mph and 125 mph.

The purpose of the DEIS is to disclose all environmental effects with the proposed project and allow review by interested parties to review and comment. FRA published the document in coordination with other affected agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard’s role is to review findings and then consider and preserve the public right of navigation and balance competing land and water transportation needs. Data presented focused on drawbridges on three major waterways included in the AAF proposal including the New River in Broward County, Loxahatchee River in Palm Beach County and the St. Lucie River in Martin County.

Included in the Coast Guard’s requests to enhance the DEIS were: navigation studies providing data on marine traffic around the proposed bridge crossings; including the St. Johns River and Hillsboro Canal and connecting waterways with descriptions of channel conditions, and requirements for vessel sizes, movements and traffic; addressing any natural or man-made obstacles and hazards to navigation; and projections of future marine traffic without the development of the proposed project. Also requested were impact on navigation from the natural flow of affected waterways while vessels are required to wait, vertical clearances affecting navigation at drawbridges and expected increase in existing closure periods.

Predicted results from vessel simulation and economic models performed at the three bridges based on increases in freight and additions of passenger rail operations indicate more vessels will be required to wait at each bridge location, but average wait times will be reduced. Predicted effects on costs to the marine industry are expected to minimally decrease at the New River and Loxahatchee and minimally increase at St. Lucie bridges. Likelihood of a 30-minute bridge closure at any of the sites has a probability of less than one percent. There is a 90 percent probability that any vessel will have a bridge wait time of less than 12.2 minutes at new River, 9.8 minutes at Loxahatchee or 17.6 minutes at St. Lucie. A summary of the navigation study findings can be found at www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/Details/L15936 (pages 10 to 16 in the pdf).

If the proposal is approved, impacts at the bridges studied are said to be reduced or eliminated through mitigation options. These include adding bridge tenders, establishing a schedule of closings posted to the internet, providing alternative signals (e.g., horn) to alert on closures, coordinating plans for peak travel times (e.g., holidays) between railroad and local authorities, etc.

FRA is soliciting public comment until December 3, 2014 and should be sent to John Winkle at AAF_comments@vhb.com or by mail to Winkle at Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room W38-311, Washington, DC 20590. In addition, eight public information meetings will be held October 27 to November 13 from Miami to Orlando including Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Stuart. The complete impact study and dates and locations for those meetings are posted at www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0672. MIASF and consultants are reviewing the study and will provide comments to the Coast Guard and Railroad agency.

See related article in this newsletter on the Coast Guard request for input on bridge navigation issues.

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Marine Industries Association of South Florida. 221 SW 3rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312. Phone: 954.524.2733