The TC Palm: Laurence Reisman: A few things you might not have found in All Aboard Florida report

Posted on August 21, 2015

Larry Reisman

The 646-page Federal Railroad Administration analysis of All Aboard Florida’s impact on our region was interesting. It reminded me of why we treasure our little piece of paradise, and why out-of-town bureaucrats sometimes just don’t get it.

Don’t get me wrong; passenger rail service is a good thing. I’d love to take a train to the Orlando airport, Miami or even Stuart. But 32 trains a day, none of which stop anywhere near here? That’s a problem.

Instead of the report finding solutions, it cites numerous problems in our backyard — most of which we have heard ad infinitum. Here are a few, though, you might have missed.

Rail crossing closures: If you live around Vero Beach, this might be the most insulting proposal in the report: All Aboard Florida would close the angled rail crossing from southbound U.S. 1 onto 14th Avenue. Also, if safer, “four-quadrant” gates can’t be installed because of space, the frequently used east-west crossing at 21st Street and U.S. 1 near the city’s post office would be closed.

“We haven’t agreed to any closures,” said Monte Falls, the city’s public works director. The problem is, according to Wayne Coment, city attorney, the city might not be able to stop the railroad from closing the crossings. It has had license agreements with the railroad related to its crossings for decades.

Downtown Vero Beach probably could get by if the 14th Avenue crossing were closed. Motorists could cross at 23rd or 26th streets — or 21st if it remains open. The 23rd and 26th street intersections are poorly designed; traffic signals and short lanes pose problems. They’d have to be re-engineered to handle the increased traffic.

“But closing 21st Street would be real problematic,” Falls said.

He’s right. If All Aboard Florida gets that far, the city must do whatever necessary to keep the crossing open. The future of a revitalized downtown hangs in the balance.

St. Sebastian River Bridges: It was news to me the 1,635-foot railroad bridges, built in 1926, are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historical Places. So was news that passenger trains are expected to be running at 110 miles per hour in that area, and the old bridges can’t handle that load.

The solution: Tear down the old bridges and build double-track ones. Sebastian- and Micco-area residents are bound to love this process, as is the marine life that will be affected by the construction.

More history: Somehow the Vero Man historic site just west of the railroad bridge over the Main Relief Canal — where in 1915 and 1916 excavators found human bones possibly dating to 14,000 years ago — was omitted from the first federal analysis of All Aboard Florida.

The new report acknowledges its existence around and under the existing tracks and noted Mercyhurst University archeologists are working about 500 feet from the railroad right of way near Aviation Boulevard. How will construction necessary for increased passenger service affect the site? There’s no mention of it and how any destruction will be mitigated.

Pollution: All Aboard Florida brags its service will take cars off the road. The assumption it will happen here without service is ludicrous. Meantime, there will be increased air pollution as automobiles sit at closed crossings longer.

At the one Indian River County crossing listed in the report — Oslo Road and U.S. 1 — carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compound emissions are expected to increase from 2016 to 2036 by 20 percent because of stoppages associated with passenger trains; 36 percent because of increased freight traffic.

If all this weren’t bad enough, there’s a chart that shows the average speeds passenger trains will go in the northernmost six counties. At 106.6 mph, trains will travel through Indian River County the fastest. The lowest average speeds: 79.5 mph in Martin County and 34.2 mph to the west of State Road 417 in Orange County.

It was all very interesting, but scary. What’s most troubling is the Federal Railroad Administration — our government regulator — cites impacts, but doesn’t offer solutions that will benefit local residents.

Why? In part because the people who have put this project together and those who wrote the report don’t live here. They do not understand our concerns or lifestyle. If you’re concerned, get involved.

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