Critics Say All Aboard Florida Should be Slowtracked December 17, 2014
A growing chorus of voices is calling for the agencies overseeing the All Aboard Florida rail expansion plan to dig deeper into the proposal by gathering more details, identify alternatives and generally “go slow” before approval of any next phases. As marine industry personnel know, and have expressed concern over, the expansion of passenger and freight traffic leading to more closures for longer times of bridges over important navigable rivers in southeast Florida is a deal breaker. On the New River, the proposal would limit access to key facilities west of the bridge 50% of each hour, which is unacceptable. The disruption would severely impact waterway traffic to and from marine businesses upriver from the bridges not only inconveniencing boat owners, but economically injuring the firms and industry that serve them.
In an editorial page commentary on the draft environmental impact statement issued by the Federal Railroad Administration, the Sun Sentinel on November 22 said, “ … given the concerns raised by a pillar regional industry [the marine industry], and the bigger picture emerging about future traffic on this urban rail corridor, All Aboard Florida’s fast-track plan needs a timeout.”
The paper pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard, charged with maintaining the navigability of waterways, was “ignored” in an earlier review phase of the project, and “told us it has some concerns about the train’s impact on boaters at the New River Bridge, the Loxahatchee Bridge in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River Bridge in Stuart … So at the moment, the Coast Guard is the maritime industry’s best chance to mitigate potential peril.”
Coast Guard officials earlier expressed concern to the editorial board at The Palm Beach Post noting, “We have reason to believe the navigational needs on those waterways may not be being met currently by the current schedules and right now they are only running freight,” said Gene Stratton, chief of marine planning and waterways management for the Seventh Coast Guard District. “We’re not telling FEC [All Aboard parent] how to run their trains. We’re saying marine traffic must have access at certain times.”
Congresswoman Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach in an interview with the Sun Sentinel November 28 said, “I’m not trying to stop the train or start the train … what you don’t want to do is harm a very, very important industry to Florida — a $9 billion [latest updated number by Thomas Murray & Associates, is $11.5 billion] economic engine. They [the marine industry] do want to live in coexistence and make it a plus-plus situation.”
Commentary from marine media has been largely supportive of the industry’s position on preserving unfettered waterway transportation. Bill Sisson, editor of Soundings and related publications perhaps summed it up best in a recent editorial: “The current proposal from All Aboard Florida needs to be derailed. And the Coast Guard needs to broker a workable agreement that keeps the waterways open long enough for all vessels to safely transit the rivers. It makes sense economically and it makes sense in terms of safety.”
MIASF agrees that more attention needs to be paid to environmental impacts by the Coast Guard and South Florida transportation experts. The association has formally requested the bridge remain open for a minimum of 40 minutes of each hour of each day that the City of Fort Lauderdale has made a resolution and memorialized. Association officers and staff intend to keep the door open to work with All Aboard Florida to search for solutions.