Long awaited study says that the private passenger rail system has minimal environmental impact, and could even improve air quality.
By Jacob Engels
The U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) today published the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Orlando to West Palm Beach section (Phase II) of All Aboard Florida – Operations LLC’s (AAF) passenger rail Project. The study confirmed what AAF and private passenger rail supporters have been saying for quite some time now, that the private passenger rail system would have little impact on Florida’s environment.
“Our role is to ensure compliance with federal environmental laws so that communities remain safe and experience as few adverse impacts from this project as possible,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said. “That is why we are having a robust comment period to hear from as many people as possible before any other action is taken.” The DEIS is a milestone in the clearance process for all known environmental impacts before pre-engineering, design and construction can begin on a project.
Publication of the DEIS begins a comprehensive 75-day public comment period that is nearly twice as long as the time period required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. Last summer, All Aboard Florida voluntarily agreed to increase the public comment period – recognizing the requests of Governor Rick Scott, community leaders, residents, and other concerned parties who wanted more time to evaluate the project. The DEIS examines four alternatives, including a No-Action Alternative for the 168.5 mile proposed alignment between West Palm Beach and Orlando. The document includes environmental analysis for both Phase I and Phase II, and lays out potential impacts from the project on cultural resources, navigation, wetlands, floodplains, biological resources and natural ecological systems, as well as land use.
Although the overall environmental impact of the project will be minimal, with some beneficial impacts anticipated in air quality, transportation efficiency and noise, the document identifies a dozen adverse impacts across four alternatives. The DEIS proposes twenty distinct mitigation strategies for the adverse impacts identified.
“Public involvement and input is critical in evaluating alternatives and ensuring a thorough analysis of all aspects of the project,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. The Administration is publishing this document in coordination with the Federal Aviation Authority, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Public notice will be made through a notice in the Federal Register, newspaper ads, and press releases.
This report follows the FRA’s FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) that issued for the first phase of the AAF project in January of 2013. That leg of the passenger rail would service the 66.5 miles between West Palm Beach & Miami. Although the DEIS was initiated for Phase II of the Project, (West Palm Beach to Orlando), the document analyzes the cumulative effects of both phases of the project. AAF currently has an application pending for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which has to be paid back in full – keeping with AAF’s promise of a privately funded and maintained passenger rail.
The environmental review is an important prerequisite requirement to be considered for the RRIF. All Aboard Florida would connect Orlando with Miami in under three hours, with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale & West Palm Beach initially. The private passenger rail would provide first class seating options, gourmet food, and quick service from two of Florida’s busiest and largest cities. The project would include 32 passenger trains daily and travel between 79 mph and 125 mph, with average wait times at local railroads and intersections coming in under a minute.
The comment period ends December 3rd, 2014. Below are the dates, times and locations to express your recommendations for Florida’s proposed rapid passenger train service:
October 27, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 2106 | 300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami, FL 33132
October 28, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
October 29, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 1001 Okeechobee Blvd. West Palm Beach, FL 33401
October 30, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 900 SE Salerno Road | Stuart, FL 34997
November 5, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 6155 College Lane, Vero Beach, FL 32966
November 6, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 9221 SE Civic Center Place, Port St Lucie, FL 34952
November 12, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 430 Delannoy Avenue, Cocoa, FL 32922
November 13, 2014: 3:30 PM – 7:00 PM @ 800 International Drive, Orlando, FL, 32819
All Aboard Florida is encouraging anyone who lives or works around the train tracks to come out and participate in the discussions and to make recommendations that will “ensure a cohesive, happy and mutually beneficial alliance between the community and the train company” according to a statement released by the company
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at email@example.com