Martin County: Study of All Aboard impacts underestimates boat traffic

Posted on June 30, 2015

By Jennifer Sorentrue

Martin County officials on Monday took aim at a federal study evaluating All Aboard Florida’s express passenger rail service, saying the findings underestimate the impact the rail project will have on boat traffic in the St. Lucie River.

In an 8-page letter to the U.S. Coast Guard, Martin County officials said an 11-month tally of vessel traffic in the St. Lucie River found “far more” boats transited the Florida East Coast Railway bascule bridge than projected in a draft version of a federal study evaluating the environmental impacts of the All Aboard Florida project.

Martin County’s analysis, which was conducted by a private engineering firm, found that boat traffic near the bridge peaked in April, when 8,428 boats transited the 90-year-old span. Martin officials argue the April tally is 83 percent higher than the traffic estimate that was included in the draft version of the federal study, which was released in September.

The draft study evaluated traffic at the bridge over a two-week period in January 2014. It also looked at several other environmental factors, including the project’s effects on road traffic at railway crossings.

The draft study found that All Aboard’s passenger train service between West Palm Beach and Orlando would have a minimal impact on the marine industry or the environment, while improving air quality and reducing noise in surrounding communities. A final version of the report is expected to be released this summer.

Steve Ryan, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who is representing Martin County in its battle to block the rail project, said the county’s findings are “yet another indication” that the draft study is “flawed.”

“This new data is alarming, as it indicates the expected increase in bridge closures due to the AAF project is a far more serious a problem, due to the larger number of vessels transiting the River in that area,” Ryan said in a statement released by the county on Monday.

In their letter, Martin County officials said they planned to continue to collect data at the bridge and asked the Coast Guard to keep them “informed on any actions” involving the bridge. A Coast Guard spokeswoman did not return a call for comment on Monday.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 trains a day — 16 round trips — on the Florida East Coast Railway between Miami and Orlando. Service is expected to start in 2017.

The St. Lucie River bridge is one of three, including the Loxahatchee River bridge and New River bridge in Fort Lauderdale, that All Aboard Florida said will get upgrades to allow them to be raised and lowered more quickly.

Because of the improvements planned as part of the rail project, closing times at the Loxahatchee River bridge will be reduced from an average of 20 minutes to 12 minute, according to the draft environmental study.

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