TC Palm: Editorial: Indian River, Martin counties must be transparent with respect to All Aboard Florida

Posted on October 12, 2015

Editorial Board

Indian River and Martin counties continue to wage a legal fight against All Aboard Florida.

Since taxpayers are footing the bill, it is imperative for county officials to be fully transparent with their constituents.

This includes posting monthly expense reports and All Aboard Florida-related studies on their respective websites.

There is room for improvement.

In recent months, each county commissioned and received a study that failed to substantiate some of the counties’ concerns with respect to the rail project.

The first draft of “The Rail Crossing Safety Evaluation for Indian River County,” completed in May by the Railroad Consultant Group in Mount Dora, challenged the assumption that 32 daily passenger trains — in combination with freight traffic — would increase delays for motorists at grade crossings.

It estimated grade crossing closures of 88 minutes per day for Florida East Coast freight traffic in 2019.

However, with infrastructure improvements for All Aboard Florida and increased operating speeds for both freight and passenger trains, the combined crossing closure time for freight and passenger trains would be 83.4 minutes per day.

The county spent $36,500 on the study, which was finalized in July, according to Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold.

Martin County allocated $40,000 to study the structural integrity of the St. Lucie River railroad bridge.

It found “the general condition of the substructure appears to have been maintained and repaired regularly.” No deterioration was observed “that would indicate an imminent failure of any of the substructure components.”

Here’s the rub: Neither study was posted on the respective counties’ websites.

“I just looked at our website and (the rail crossing safety study) has not been added yet,” Reingold said Wednesday.

Indian River County officials posted the study on their website following Treasure Coast Newspapers’ inquiry.

Taxpayers deserve access to ALL All Aboard Florida-related studies and reports generated by local governments — not just the studies and reports substantiating their concerns.

With respect to All Aboard Florida-related expenses, Indian River County posts monthly updates on its website. With a few computer keystrokes, Indian River County taxpayers can learn the county has spent $1 million through Aug. 31 on All Aboard Florida.

There is no monthly expenditure update on Martin County’s website. To date, Martin County has spent $888,000 on All Aboard Florida.

A private organization fighting All Aboard Florida, such as Citizens Against Rail Expansion, is free to choose what it makes readily available to the public.

Local governments don’t have this luxury.

Indian River and Martin counties have earmarked $4.1 million to fight All Aboard Florida.

Since elected officials are spending taxpayers’ money, it is critical they be fully transparent with their constituents.

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