The New River can’t move, but All Aboard Florida has options
Posted on December 8, 2014
Fort Lauderdale prides itself on being “The Yachting Capital of the World,” and rightly so. Great weather and fancy marinas are part of the reason. But what makes the claim real is the city’s New River marine industrial complex, with its dozens of large and small businesses serving the area’s more than 50,000 vessels. Together they generate more than $9 billion per year for the local economy.
Sadly, this economic engine and other New River users are now threatened by the All Aboard Florida rail project, which would triple the number of trains running through the Treasure Coast and South Florida. Among the impacts: unpredictable and extended bridge closures, daily traffic jams and increased costs and headaches for everybody. Simply put, AAF would effectively close off the western half of the New River for much of the day. Water taxis already refuse to serve the area for fear of being stuck behind a bridge that is mysteriously closed for an hour or more. If AAF goes forward, the New River economic engine, already challenged, would be pushed to the brink of a shutdown.
What’s the answer?
The river has to stay where it is, of course. But train owners have options: The backers of AAF could run their trains farther west on other bridges, or over the new rail corridor that may be built along Route 27. Or they could build a new bridge that allows river traffic to pass underneath unobstructed, even when the bridge is closed. The state of Florida has also determined that a rail tunnel under the New River is feasible.
While alternatives would help update old infrastructure and methods, AAF has refused to even consider them because of cost. By not considering alternatives, however, AAF is imposing a huge cost on the residents of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County in the form of damage to thriving businesses, lower property values, safety compromises (first responders also get stuck at bridges), disrupted work schedules and a general erosion of local quality of life. These and other impacts are detailed in a report I recently contributed to on behalf of Citizens Against Rail Expansion of Florida. See: SunSentinel.com/rail.
It is possible to improve regional transportation — for everyone — and still preserve the essence of Fort Lauderdale and its economic engine. But local and state leaders will have to take a much broader view to get there. AAF says it will bring some benefits — this has yet to be proven — but these should not come at the pain and expense of South Floridians.
Dana Goward formerly ran the maritime navigation authority for the United States, and a retired Coast Guard captain. As a member of the federal Senior Executive Service he had responsibility for permitting and regulating the more than 18,000 bridges that crossed the nation’s navigable waters.