The Palm Beach Post – Martin report a blueprint to mitigate All Aboard Florida’s impact

Posted on November 24, 2014

By Sally Swartz

Treasure Coast residents have had a chance to sound off about the devastating impacts All Aboard Florida will have on Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties these last few weeks.

It’s hard to shake the feeling that no one’s listening.

The intimidating formats of the public meetings are one reason. At the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) hearings, smug All Aboard Florida consultants and officials couldn’t answer many questions, and some gave inaccurate information.

At the U.S. Coast Guard hearings about navigation problems near the railroad bridge in Stuart, residents had to leave after they spoke to make room for the crowd lined up outside. Officials had the audacity to assert the meeting had nothing to do with All Aboard Florida. Only 55 of the more than 300 people had a chance to speak.

Breaking ground on a new station at West Palm Beach while the hearings were going on was another way to tell residents resistance is futile; this is a done deal.

So far, the whole process seems aimed at making public input irrelevant.

So it was refreshing last week to see Martin County’s response to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which All Aboard Florida consultants, in a massive conflict of interest, prepared for the FRA.

Martin’s deputy engineer, Terry Rauth, led a team of county staff members examining the statement, and what they found  about the plan to send 32 trains a day racing through the county at  up to 110 mph is shocking. The EIS is filled with inaccuracies, bad data and analysis, and flawed information.

All Aboard Florida prepared it with its plans only 30 percent complete and included conflicting and inaccurate facts, a team led by Rauth discovered.

For example, the feds’ statement estimates an average of 120 boats per day go through the railroad bridge. The county’s camera records an average of 235 per day and 450 per day on peak weekends.

The feds’ statement guessed the space for boats at the open railroad bridge at 50 feet. With fenders on the nearby pilings to minimize damage to boats, it’s only 40 feet — barely enough space for one boat to get through, and not enough room for two at the same time.

So the silly animation that All Aboard Florida’s consultants showed the public  of boats speeding through the space in both directions is bogus. County officials have put in a public records request to try to get a current inspection report on the 1925 bridge, which so far railroad officials will not provide.

Rauth’s report also questions the statement’s guess about how the trains will affect response time for emergency workers.

The feds’ statement doesn’t address problems such as the impacts to schools, businesses and people in low-income areas. Negative impacts to the marine industry, tourism and the Okeechobee Waterway, which ends in Stuart, also are not covered. Neither is how the train would affect evacuation routes in case of an accident at FPL’s St. Lucie Nuclear Plant.

The county suggests replacing the railroad bridge, providing bicycle/ pedestrian/wheelchair-accessible facilities at all crossings, creating pedestrian crossings at areas where foot traffic is heavy and providing wildlife crossings tunnels or culverts. Rauth’s team also wants a new EIS when the railroad’s plans are 90 percent complete, rather than 30 percent.

And, one more suggestion: One northbound and one southbound stop in Martin County daily. Here’s a link to the full report:

If the Federal Railroad Administration truly is interested in protecting residents from All Aboard Florida’s negative impacts, rather than catering to the greed of passenger rail investors, Martin’s report gives officials a blueprint for what must be done.

We’ll soon know if the FRA is listening.

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