The Palm Beach Post – For Martin residents, fight against All Aboard Florida isn’t over
Posted on October 27, 2014
By Sally Swart
So here’s what a few smart but cynical people are saying: “We might as well give up. All Aboard Florida is a done deal, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
I don’t agree, and I’m not alone. In fact, about 300 people gathered at Stuart’s Blake Library on Oct.15 to hear U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, Martin Commissioners Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding and Florida Not All Aboard’s K.C. Traylor say it isn’t so.
That doesn’t mean opponents can stop speaking out, writing letters and emails and making their voices heard. The folks supporting the trains are powerful and well-connected.
The proposed high-speed rail service would link Miami and Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It would send 32 passenger trains a day speeding through Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties at 100 mph. Add to that 14 to 20 freight trains a day, and the result would be devastating to communities near the tracks.
Petitions opposing the trains now have 31,800 signatures of residents in coastal communities.
They are worried about safety on roads where traffic lights are near crossings. They worry about evacuating people when hurricanes threaten, getting people and boats to safety on land and water.
They are worried about impacts to neighborhoods, including loss of property values and safety, particularly in low-income areas. Police and hospital officials, including those in Jupiter and Tequesta, have raised questions about getting ambulances and emergency response folks across the tracks going to and from hospitals.
Many residents are concerned about the safety of the railroad bridge across the St. Lucie River beside the Roosevelt Bridge. Boaters see the rusty bridge and rickety tracks, and worry the old bridge won’t hold up to 46-52 trains a day. All Aboard Florida doesn’t plan to replace the bridge in Stuart, which dates from the 1920s-30s, or two others crossing the Loxahatchee River.
Resident Mike Flaugh posted bridge photos on Facebook last week, along with a note: “Sure! This baby can handle a couple dozen more speeding trains a day!”
Among other things, Martin residents are concerned about the safety of the old, rusted railroad bridge across the St. Lucie River beside the Roosevelt Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Mike Flaugh)
Residents — and tourists — who enjoy downtown Stuart’s outdoor restaurants and shops believe the increased train traffic would make getting in and out of the area too difficult for motorists and could kill the rejuvenated shopping district.
Three new tracks planned through Jonathan Dickinson State Park and Savannas Preserve State Park could hurt endangered habitat and wildlife.
Residents in communities the railroad hurts must speak out, Murphy said, because the four big cities with stops and stations support All Aboard Florida. Big bucks deals are being made in real estate near new stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Whole complexes of railroad-spurred development in Miami and Orlando have the support of developers and state money.
Opponents aren’t giving up.
“If anyone can stop All Aboard Florida,” former Martin Commissioner Donna Melzer said, “it’s residents of Martin County.”
She may be right. Martin residents were able to delay Interstate 95 through Martin County for years and eventually influenced the major highway’s route to go far west. Residents successfully have fought the runaway growth that has made so many South Florida communities uncomfortable places to live.
“If we don’t stop All Aboard,” Fielding said, “Martin County will change forever.”
The Federal Railroad Administration has public hearings in West Palm Beach, Stuart, Vero Beach and Port St. Lucie over the next few weeks to hear residents’ comments and receive written comments. This week’s meetings, each from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., are at the West Palm Beach Marriott, 1001 Okeechobee Blvd., on Wednesday, and Stuart’s Kane Center at 900 S.E. Salerno Road on Thursday. Vero Beach’s meeting is Nov. 5 and Port St. Lucie’s Nov. 6. Residents also can email comments to AAF_comments@vhb.com with copies toJohn.Winkle@DOT.Gov.
Railroad officials, Traylor said, want residents to think the high-speed railroad is a done deal so they’ll shut up and go away. But if they don’t, changes — such as moving rails west of the small communities they’re about to ruin — can happen.