Opposition mounts against Florida rail bridge plans

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The Marine Industries Association of South Florida is urging the region’s marine interests to tell the Federal Railroad Administration that they are not at all on board with the proposed All Aboard Florida high-speed passenger rail service from Miami to Orlando.

The service, which would start in Miami and end at Orlando International Airport with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, threatens to tie up boat traffic at three South Florida bridges over waterways that are the lifeblood of an industry that generates annual wages totaling $4.1 billion and delivers a gross output of $11.5 billion a year in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

“Seventy-five percent of South Florida’s recreational vessel repair facilities are upstream from the bridges to be used by [All Aboard Florida],” a MIASF white paper said of the $1.5 billion “express” rail service proposed for 195 miles of the Florida East Coast Railroad corridor from Miami to Cocoa and a new rail corridor on state-owned right of way along east-west Route 528 from Cocoa to Orlando.

The MIASF is urging businesses and their employees to comment on the proposal as presented in an environmental impact statement dated in September.

Comments can be emailed to John Winkle at AAF_comments@vhb.com or posted by regular mail to John Winkle, Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE, Room W38-311, Washington, D.C. 20590. Comments must be received by Dec. 3.

The MIASF’s analysis said the impact statement understates the effect that more bridge closings resulting from more trains will have on boat traffic at the railroad bridges on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale; the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter; and the St. Lucie River/Okeechobee Waterway in Stuart.

“We understood the goal was to keep the bridges in the open position a minimum of 40 minutes per hour. Now the proposed train schedule will keep it open only 30 minutes,” the paper said.

All Aboard Florida proposes to operate hourly service from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with 16 trains running in each direction daily — a total of 32 a day — and that does not include freight trains from the ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and other cities that use Florida East Coast Railroad tracks.

In a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration, MIASF president Kristina Hebert said a 2009 study of rail traffic in Broward County showed that freight trains already shut down the New River Bridge for six hours a day.

”Our concern is that the additional proposed rail traffic of 32 passenger trains per day, combined with the planned increased freight traffic generated by the new intermodal in Miami, as well as the on-dock transfer station in Port Everglades, will combine to create the cumulative effect of virtually closing navigational access to the New River,” Hebert said in the letter.

Marine economist Thomas J, Murray, who authors the MIASF’s economic impact studies, reviewed the environmental impact statement and found flaws in the methodology that its preparers used to estimate the size of the marine industry. Murray said the EIS’s estimate of marine-related economic activity is off by about two-thirds and it completely ignored marinas and storage facilities in its count of marine businesses.

“The EIS misses hundreds of millions of dollars of marine industry economic activity as a result of this naïve oversight,” Murray said.