July 21--All Aboard Florida's $29 million train station in downtown West Palm Beach will be under construction by late December as the express passenger service pushes forward on its unprecedented project to connect Miami with Orlando by rail.
Plans scheduled to be unveiled today show a sleek narrow facility of glass and steel that will stretch between Datura and Evernia streets to the west of the Florida East Coast railway tracks. An elevated lounge the length of the 800-foot train platform includes seats for 180 people, while a U-shaped drop-off area will ease departures and pickups.
The design, created by New York-based firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in association with Zyscovich Architects, is similar to All Aboard Florida's already-revealed Fort Lauderdale station, including an exoskeleton of sharp modern trusses. But it is more humble in scale than the company's $150 million Miami station, which will have restaurants, shops, apartments and offices.
"We wanted a forward-looking design that created a common brand thread so you know you have arrived at a distinguished location," said Eric Claussen, vice president of design and construction for All Aboard Florida.
The station, which will have a parking lot for about 90 vehicles, is expected to open in 2016. Demolition of current structures, including the 89-year-old Sasser Glass building could start within 60 days, Claussen said.
What is missing in the first phase of the station design are wish list items from city officials including a pedestrian bridge and frontage roads to relieve congestion anticipated when the project permanently closes Datura and Evernia streets at busy Quadrille Boulevard.
While an environmental assessment released last year calls downtown West Palm Beach a "vibrant center" with a "collection of charming but disconnected neighborhoods" that won't be affected by street closures, some residents disagree.
Anthony Altieri, who lives in the Whitney condominium on Evernia Street and likes the convenience of walking to the Publix at CityPlace, said his only concern with All Aboard Florida is the street closures. Otherwise, he's looking forward to taking the train to Orlando to catch flights and hopes upgraded crossings will alleviate the need for train horns.
"The only difficulty we have living at the Whitney is that darn train horn blowing through," Altieri said. "I'm blessed because I live on the east side, but on the west side, forget it."
All Aboard Florida, which will stop only in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach between Miami and Orlando, has committed to improving rail crossings so that less-obtrusive stationary horns can be installed. Municipalities are pushing for more safety upgrades that will allow for quiet zones.
West Palm Beach officials aren't giving up on the pedestrian bridge or frontage roads. City spokesman Elliot Cohen said the Florida Department of Transportation has to get involved with the pedestrian bridge because it requires a small change to Quadrille Boulevard. Also, some of the land needed to add roads is privately owned.
And there's still a question about who will pay for the added features.
"There are a lot of moving parts that need to be figured out yet," Cohen said. "The discussions involving the roads and the bridge are ongoing."
All Aboard Florida has become a contentious project with strong support in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and outright opposition in some areas of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
With an additional 32 trains per day, traveling at speeds between 79 mph and 110 mph, opponents fear increased noise, and have concerns about lower property values, safety, and whether emergency vehicles will face delays.
The marine industry is also watching closely, worried about the impact on boat traffic that may be stalled by increased drawbridge closings.
"We are all good neighbors and we want the railroad to be a good neighbor also," said Bill Ward, CEO of Mariner Sands Country Club in Stuart and a member of the Citizens Against Rail Expansion steering committee. "What are the benefits to our region? We don't see any."
Also not included in the first phase of construction for the West Palm Beach station is such so-called "transit-oriented development," as restaurants and retail space.
An economic impact statement released by All Aboard Florida in May shows 313 construction jobs created by transit-oriented development in 2017, tapering off to 147 by 2019. Building the rail line, which will include double tracks along most of the route, is expected to create 952 Palm Beach County construction jobs and create $297.6 million in economic impact for the county.
"We feel this will open up a new window for West Palm Beach and the county," said William Murray, president of the Palm Beach County Hotel and Lodging Association. "People who normally would get in their car in Miami and drive to Orlando without stopping may make a pit stop here and recognize it as a city worth checking out."
Copyright 2014 - The Palm Beach Post, Fla.