All Aboard Florida is a private company pushing a new train service between South Florida and Orlando. Though the project might relieve some traffic on the Turnpike, boaters are alarmed that their aquatic lives will be ruined because there could be fewer drawbridge openings if the tracks eventually get laid down.
Ground has already been broken for some train stations, though the company is still seeking more funding as well as approval for environmental impact statements.
Charles Thayer of Palm City says he goes out boating on a weekly basis and more often in the summer. But when it comes to the All Aboard Florida proposal impacting the bridges in his area, which includes those over the St. Lucie River, Loxahatchee River, and New River, the 70-year-old investment banker says the math is simple.
"There are 60 minutes in an hour. Each bridge cycle" -- time that the bridge must be down to allow a train to pass -- "takes 20 minutes. They're proposing three trains per hour," he says. "That means the bridges will be closed during all daylight hours."
But this isn't just about wealthy boaters getting stuck in water traffic. Rather, Thayer worries that thousands of marine jobs will be affected if there are fewer bridge openings for boaters. Thayer says the $2.8 billion industry would be at risk of severe losses, and property values could plummet.
Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Commissioner Stuart Dodd is even more skeptical, especially since construction of a railroad station already began last week in Fort Lauderdale -- the same week of a public comment phase.
"That indicates to me they have no intention of listening to public comments, as their mind has already been made up," Dodd says.
Still, he makes his case.
"I have been operating a small marine repair business in Fort Lauderdale for 16 years and regularly move boats up and down the New River," Dodd says. "I am horrified to see the expected bridge times increase from 190 minutes to 390 minutes. That means the rail bridge will be closed for six hours and 30 minutes every day."
And then there's Tom Thomas, a Fort Lauderdale resident who wrote in to New Times to express his view on the project, which he describes as "an elaborate ruse."
"[All Aboard Florida wants] to obtain funding to lay more train tracks and -- this is the key -- to obtain approval to keep the New River bridge (and other bridges) closed for 40 minutes per hour for rail traffic, all under the guise of providing a useful and environmentally friendly transport service to and from Disney World," Thomas says. But he doesn't stop there.
"The people of Broward County need to wake up and see that the light coming at them is attached to an FEC locomotive hauling vast amounts of cargo day and night through our community," Thomas continues. "AAF is a bait and switch and a bad deal for Broward residents. In the end, it will serve only to benefit the Port of Miami, FECI, Fortress, and the anonymous companies pushing cargo through our community. Meanwhile, it devalues our property, degrades our lifestyles, and will kill thousands of local jobs tied to the New River marine industries."
In a prepared email response from its public relations group, AAF says they're not ignoring the boaters' fears.
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"All Aboard Florida is committed to working with the marine industry and has already taken major steps to address those concerns, like spending millions of dollars to upgrade the bridge structure, decreasing the bridge cycle time to 12 to 13 minutes, funding the reestablishment of a bridge tender at the New River and developing a mobile application that allows boaters to check the next closure," the organization says.
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