All Aboard Florida slighted Martin County by failing to look west

Posted on September 21, 2016

Federal and state agencies soon will receive a new suggested route for All Aboard Florida, one which would skirt Martin County yet still cut through other areas of the Treasure Coast.

The Martin County Commission on Tuesday approved submitting this alternative route proposal to the Federal Railroad Administration, Florida Department of Transportation and South Florida Water Management District.

"I think this is a great alternative," Commissioner John Haddox said. "It should have been studied from the get-go."

All Aboard Florida representatives declined to comment.

Commissioners issued the directive following a 30-minute presentation by Rick Creech, of Creech Consulting Inc., one of numerous outside consultants hired by the county in its battle against the $3.1 billion passenger railroad.

When preparing a crucial federal environmental report, All Aboard Florida considered only four routes: corridors along Florida's Turnpike and Interstate 95, the current CSX tracks and the existing Florida East Coast Railway coastal corridor, Creech told the commission.

The company excluded a fifth alternative, a route which would divert the train west in sections of north Palm Beach, Martin and south St. Lucie counties, helping to minimize impacts of the passenger railroad on some of the Treasure Coast's communities, Creech said.

The alternative would cut the number of rail crossings in Martin County from 29 to 13, the consultant said.

All Aboard Florida's current planned route would carry passengers from Miami to Cocoa along existing Florida East Coast tracks and then west to Orlando International Airport along a new corridor in the State Road 528 right of way.

The fifth alternative starts in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County and heads northwest on CSX tracks, Creech said. Near Port Mayaca, along Lake Okeechobee, the route switches from CSX to existing Florida East Coast tracks and cuts back east to connect, just south of Fort Pierce, with All Aboard Florida's selected coastal route, according to Creech’s presentation.

Commissioner Anne Scott said after Tuesday's presentation that just because All Aboard Florida would have to use CSX tracks does not make this route nonviable.

"A component of 'reasonable alternatives' is not that you own the tracks," Scott said about the fifth alternative being excluded from the environmental report.

Commissioner Ed Fielding saidthere's a "potential conversation about getting (the Florida Department of Transportation) to help us buy the right of way" along the alternative route.

But according to Kristin Seay, with CSX Corporate Communications, "CSX's lines in South Central Florida are vital for freight shipments to serve the state's economy and do not have adequate capacity for additional passenger trains."

Together, Martin and Indian River counties have dedicated $4.9 million to a multi-pronged battle against All Aboard Florida, including a major federal lawsuit..

Martin County has spent about $2 million to date, according to county records.

Martin and Indian River counties have dedicated nearly $5 million to the All Aboard Florida fight. To date, Martin County has spent about $2 million. Most of the money has gone to outside consultants.

Most of the money has gone to outside legal and engineering consultants, including $120,000 to Creech Consulting, according to the records.

Limited Brightline rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach is to begin next year with full service to Orlando beginning in 2018, according to All Aboard Florida.

According to Creech, the fifth alternative would not impact the rail work between Miami and West Palm Beach, which, All Aboard Florida says, is more than halfway complete.

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