The TC Palm – Fort Pierce officials unsatisfied with All Aboard Florida

Posted on November 11, 2014

By Donald Rodrigue

FORT PIERCE — City commissioners met with Fort Pierce Planning Manager Rebecca Grohall on Monday morning during their conference agenda to discuss concerns about the potential negative effects the proposed high-speed rail service, All Aboard Florida, could have on the city if the system is approved by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Grohall has been studying the FRA’s draft environmental impact statement on the rail project since its release Sept. 19. Her own report details several potential problems, particularly with the city’s Avenue C bridge, which Grohall says must be upgraded to handle the larger volume of train traffic expected with the additional 32 trains per day.

“Since it is a single track, only one train can cross at a time, thus train switching before or after the crossing is necessary,” Grohall explained in the report. “This creates traffic flow problems at crossing intersections. Consequently, we see traffic buildups at crossing intersections, such as Seaway Drive, Avenue D, Avenue A, Cedar Place, Avenue C and the Citrus Avenue overpass.”

District 2 Commissioner Thomas Perona is worried about how congested the rail traffic could become along the narrow stretch of downtown Fort Pierce. He said Florida East Coast Railway owns significant right of way in the city and is rumored to be planning a lengthy side rail for the slower freight trains that would need to pull off so the faster passenger trains could pass by. He believes there would be potential problems with freight trains blocking intersections while awaiting All Aboard Florida trains.

“We already have 20 freight trains running during the day, and they’re going to have 32 high-speed trains as well,” Perona said. “They’re going to be stopping traffic and in our way. I don’t see how it could not impact the east-to-west traffic flow.”

In her report, Grohall noted the potential loss of “connectivity to major areas of the city” due to increased rail traffic and the possible negative effect it would have on fire and rescue workers. She told Commissioners Monday she was worried about the potential strain on the Citrus Avenue overpass due to increased traffic by motorists trying to avoid the trains and the added pressure of additional rail traffic below the aging structure.

“All Aboard Florida should work with the city to assist with upgrading and maintaining the overpass,” Grohall said. “It is imperative for the safety of travelers going over the train tracks on Citrus Avenue that it undergo rehabilitation.”

Grohall also expressed concerns about the negative effect of the train’s additional noise pollution and vibration could have on the city’s older structures located close to the tracks. All Aboard Florida would require the installation of a sealed corridor surrounding the tracks in downtown Fort Pierce, and Grohall reminded commissioners that they need to be in on the decision-making process so the city would not end up with an unattractive chain-link fence running through the heart of downtown.

Perona said the Commission was “definitely not satisfied with the data,” and Grohall wants the city to request All Aboard Florida re-evaluate the report and provide actual data the city could use.

“The report lacked meaningful, quantifiable data that could be utilized to evaluate the additional traffic delays, impacts to grade crossings, effects on roadways and adjacent neighborhoods and most importantly, the true costs to the city,” she said.

All Aboard Florida plans to build the system in two phases, with the first connecting Downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The second phase would continue through the Treasure Coast to just west of Cocoa and then to Orlando, without any additional stops.

The FRA is providing an extended public comment period of 75 days from the issue of the environmental impact report, which will terminate Dec. 3.

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