FL: All Aboard Florida May Add Stops

All Aboard Florida could add stops to "many more communities" along its 235-mile Miami to Orlando route, but the consolation may not ease mounting opposition in northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast as the project begins its first phase of construction.

In a letter late last month to state Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Hobe Sound, All Aboard Florida's President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson said while plans limit stops to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the company "looks forward to eventually offering passenger rail service to many more communities."

"As a private system, we are constrained by budget and economics to plan and build this system in phases," Robinson wrote.

On Tuesday, All Aboard Florida unveiled its design for a sleek $30 million train station in downtown Fort Lauderdale, a milestone, company officials said, in their historic bid to connect Miami to Orlando on the Florida East Coast railway tracks.

While the company intended to open the entire route by the end of 2016, a delayed Environmental Impact Statement likely means the most contested area of the project -- West Palm Beach to Orlando -- will begin a little later.

The delay was welcomed by some elected officials who have concerns about the impact of the trains, which will travel at up to 110 mph north of West Palm Beach to Cocoa and up to 125 mph west to Orlando.

"This will provide time to substantiate the claims made by All Aboard Florida that there will be no adverse effects on public safety, traffic, noise, residential property values, marine interests and overall quality of life before moving north to communities gravely concerned with these issues," said Tequesta Mayor Abby Brennan.

All Aboard Florida's $2.5 billion project plans to run 32 additional trains per day on the FEC tracks. The company is paying for the Miami to West Palm Beach phase with the help of a successful $405 million bond sale completed last month. The company applied for a $1.5 billion Federal Railroad Administration loan to help pay for updating its tracks and laying new tracks on the West Palm Beach to Orlando leg.

Michael Reininger, president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida, said the Miami to West Palm Beach phase can operate independently as a successful venture, and he's confident the company will earn the federal loan to complete the Orlando construction.

"The first phase of this project is a very robust business all by itself," Reininger said at Tuesday's station unveiling.

Broward County elected officials touted how the 60,000-square-foot station will invigorate a pocket of scruffy unused land off the city's main thoroughfare, and how the rail line will enhance the economy by funneling people into downtown businesses.

A design reveal for West Palm Beach's station, which is expected to be similar in scope and price to that of Fort Lauderdale's, could come by the end of the month.

But even as accolades for the rail project flowed in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, opposition to the north gathered strength. A new entity -- Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida -- has formed, uniting wealthy communities in Jupiter and the Treasure Coast that have concerns about noise, property values, safety and boat traffic delays.

Stuart Mayor Troy McDonald said six months ago news that All Aboard Florida may add a stop in his city might quell opposition, but he's not so sure now.

"The problem we've struggled with is the lack of information, so saying that they will do something in the future to me is not a solid commitment," McDonald said. "Only they know their true plans."

Reininger has repeatedly said All Aboard Florida will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade crossings and drawbridges to minimize wait times for vehicle and boat traffic.

Still, people are skeptical.

"I think many are hopeful, but there have been no documents released that show the specifics," said Kim Delaney, strategic development coordinator of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.

Michael Kennedy, president of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County, has similar concerns as far as upgrading drawbridges to reduce the impact on boaters.

"We have been asking for details for almost eight months," he said.


Copyright 2014 - The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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