All Aboard Florida Train Creating Political Noise

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ABOVE VIDEO: Brevard County Commission Candidate Rick Lacey shares his take on All Aboard Florida.

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — Gov. Rick Scott maintains that no state funding is headed to a proposed passenger rail line that would run along Florida’s East Coast.

[RELATED CONTENT: YOUR OPINION: Monique Miller On ‘All Aboard Florida’]

Michael Reininger
Michael Reininger

And Scott, who in 2011 rejected federal funding for high-speed rail across 84 miles of Central Florida, has asked All Aboard Florida President Michael Reininger to “be sensitive” to residents’ concerns as plans for the privately run rail service progress. 

However, opponents of the rail plan say they need to hear more out of Tallahassee to keep the local fight from becoming a runaway election issue for the governor.

“We would appreciate (Scott’s) voice to the Federal Railroad Administration saying, ‘We need make sure this project is feasible before you’re spending or loaning one penny of taxpayer dollars,’ ” said K.C. Traylor, who helped create Florida Not All Aboard, one of the key opposition groups to the return of passenger rail service along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

Rick Scott
Rick Scott

The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that Scott expressed support for the project.

“I’m hopeful that All Aboard will continue to get all those concerns addressed,” Scott told the newspaper. “But I like people building things in our state, and I hope they’re very successful.”

Nevertheless, his office has also tried to distance Scott from the project.

“This project is a private venture that is using zero state funds. Governor Scott has had no role in its finance or development,” Scott spokesman Frank Collins said in an email response Tuesday to a question asking for Scott’s position on the rail service.

Collins email accompanied a letter in which Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad wrote Tuesday advising Reininger that despite a recent media report that the company could request “an additional $44 million in state grants,” the department will not invest state dollars in the project.

All Aboard Florida has applied for a Federal Railroad Administration loan for the $2.5 billion service.

While Traylor said she hasn’t been getting the answers she wants from Scott on All Aboard Florida, or for that matter from his potential Democratic challengers, the residents know their voices are being heard in Tallahassee.

A year ago an environmental crisis along the Treasure Coast resulted in state lawmakers agreeing this spring to spend more than $220 million for efforts to clean the water in South Florida.

Florida NOT All Aboard facebook 300This year, residents from the same Republican-dominated area are up in arms over the potential impacts of All Aboard Florida, which is to planned to eventually run from Miami to Orlando. The first trains are expected to travel between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2016.

“People are upset and they haven’t heard much from the governor,” Traylor said. “I do believe this is bigger than the river, because it is an issue that goes from Miami to Orlando, with only two depots in between, there’s a lot of people affected.”

Florida Atlantic University Associate Professor of Political Science Kevin Wagner said he wasn’t sure All Aboard Florida would become a deal breaker for any statewide race. But, he added, “If enough voters are thinking about the issue, then even statewide politicians will have to address it at least in this area.”

“In any election it’s not how big an issue it is with the average person, it is how big it is with motivated voters,” Wagner said in an email. “In this case, I think the politicians are worried that a large enough segment of the voters will vote on this issue.” 

“In any election it’s not how big an issue it is with the average person, it is how big it is with motivated voters,” Wagner said in an email. “In this case, I think the politicians are worried that a large enough segment of the voters will vote on this issue.”

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist

Scott’s potential Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist continued this week to criticize Scott for rejecting $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. Crist also alluded to media reports that have raised questions about links between Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, and the All Aboard Florida project.

“Done right, investing in our infrastructure will create thousands of good paying jobs and help us grow the middle class,” Crist spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in an email. “Done Rick Scott’s way — without addressing the concerns of those living along the corridor and without answering questions about the project’s shady origins — he will squander Florida’s tax dollars without creating jobs and without actually giving us high speed rail.”

Republican Party of Florida Communications Director Susan Hepworth said there is a vast difference in the two rail projects.

“The proposed high speed rail would have wasted millions of Florida taxpayer dollars by leaving the state on the hook for an unprofitable project,” Hepworth said in an email. “A private sector project — of any kind — not run on state funding obviously doesn’t have the same risks. Anyone saying these two issues are the same is being intentionally dishonest.”

The local media in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast has played a big role highlighting the crusade against adding the rail service to the currently freight-only tracks. And the issue is getting bigger play in local races.

Former state Rep. Carl Domino, running for the District 18 seat in Congress, last week tried to score points with statements about the views of incumbent U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Jupiter, on the rail service. 

Domino, a Republican from Jupiter, released a mailer claiming Murphy supports the rail plan. Murphy’s office is emphatic in its opposition.

Most of the local governments, including Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, have voiced concerns over the plan. Stuart Republican Sen. Joe Negron held a press conference June 26 to announce his opposition.

The concerns are financial as well as about safety and quality of life.

The marine industry expects to be impacted as boaters are delayed due to drawbridges being lowered as many as 32 times a day for the trains, which will also tie up traffic in small downtown commercial centers.

Meanwhile, opponents talk that tourism and property values will drop due to the trains, which could also create noise within wealthy gated communities near the tracks.

Late last week, a new group called Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, made up of affluent residents in northern Palm Beach and Martin counties, joined the opposition and requested a meeting with Scott. No meeting has been announced.