I mildly disagree with TCPalm.com columnist Rich Campbell, regarding the Stuart News’s Shaping Our Future series, that “All Aboard Florida is a bad idea for all of us.” I do agree, however, that several demands should be met in order for All Aboard Florida’s passenger trains to benefit everyone that its proponents (myself, included) are claiming that it will benefit. Everyone, meaning: The whole state of Florida. Including the Treasure Coast area, which hosted one of President Obama’s annual retreats, last year, in Palm City.
Before listing and commenting on these concerns (concerns that should be packaged into a set of demands), I’d like to, as Mr. Campbell did, in his column, encourage Treasure Coast and other South Florida residents to speak out on these matters. You can snail-mail your concerns to the Federal Railroad Administration at: 1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590. Or you can email your thoughts to the FRA at: www.fra.dot.gov.
Right now, let’s look at some of the concerns that have been noted and gathered by Rich Campbell, Eve Samples and others about All Aboard Florida’s presence in our region:
QUIET ZONES: For any state- or federally-proposed outfit, quiet zones are a given. If this had been the original public high-speed-rail project that was submitted to Washington for proposal by Charlie Crist and later de-railed by Governor Scott, quiet zones would have been a built-in feature, right from the start. Quasi-private All Aboard Florida should do the same, without dumping that responsibility on the citizens of the Treasure Coast, even though we will initially not be served by their trains.
STOPS ALONG THE TREASURE COAST: If there are no overt plans to have stops on the Treasure Coast, one of our nation’s most important centers for agricultural, biological and marine research, why should we foot any part of the bill we’re being asked to dole out? Vero Beach, Ft. Pierce and Stuart are all key South Florida cities that deserve the same significance of destination and importance as our larger, more hectic metropolises to the south.
BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE: Existing railroad infrastructure won’t suffice and isn’t going to cut it for the purpose of high-speed rail. There should be additional tracks laid (double tracking, etc.), along with safety features such as double grade crossings to prevent cars from passing on both sides.
THE LEAST ALL ABOARD FLORAIDA CAN DO FOR THE TREASURE COAST? All of the above. And, maybe, a great deal more. What to do about delays for boaters; congested traffic at railway crossings created from 16 trains a day, both ways; impacts on home values, etc., I really don’t know. These are all things that are gonna have to be worked out in town hall meetings, and perhaps, in the courts.
Still, there’s no reason to try and stop All Aboard Florida from happening. Not this late in its development. And not so long as they are willing to address major issues that will impact its initial partial presence on the Treasure Coast. It’s counter-progressive to even think that way. We can iron out all of our noted concerns as the project matures.
The optimal time to have addressed any major issues of concern would have been early on in the game. Where was the NIMBY crowd, back then? Still, most of the blame for any recent outrage over secrecy and lack of disclosure on some issues should be attributed to All Aboard Florida. Several years ago, I had an opportunity to attend a few meetings in Jupiter for the proposed SFECC Corridor project and felt that not only was I listened to, I was well-educated by the SFECC Study Group on the scope, scale, benefits, drawbacks and impacts of the project that they were proposing. They were all very professional and their project was very well thought out.
Here, on the Treasure Coast, we’re all very excited about Amtrak passenger service returning to the east coast of Florida. So, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be just as much enthusiasm about having high-speed passenger-rail service between Miami and Orlando. Not to mention the possibility of future rail service to Jacksonville and Tampa. But it would help if (like Amtrak, like SFECC, like Tri-Rail) All Aboard Florida was more forthcoming on some things and more thoroughly engaged with the public about the good, the bad and the ugly regarding what I think could very well be a very beneficial and game-changing service for our state.
We have, right here, in our hands, the opportunity to become the most intermodal, transit-oriented and well-connected state in the nation. It’s either now or never. And I say we go for it! But thoughtfully and carefully, not foolishly or in the most mindless way.