State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, has added more questions to a controversy about the return of passenger rail service along Florida’s East Coast, and Historic City News has learned that this week he requested Attorney General Pam Bondi look into a lease that he says could keep the proposed Miami-to-Orlando “All Aboard Florida” rail service from stopping in Brevard and Indian River counties.
We know how he feels. Even though Flagler’s signature Florida East Coast Railroad was headquartered in St Augustine since its inception, operating in the three four-story towers on Malaga Street now owned by Flagler College, to “All Aboard Florida”, the company owned by Florida East Coast Industries, now based in Coral Gables, we remain persona non grata.
“There will never be stops in Brevard and Indian River counties if All Aboard Florida has to make up for revenue lost to the state from automobiles who no longer travel to Orlando on the Beeline Expressway”, Altman said; referring to the toll road adjacent to the land on which the passenger rail line is built and operated.
In addition to $275,000 a year in rent over the term of the 45-year-lease signed last year, “All Aboard Florida” indemnifies the state from any such loss of toll revenue. In his letter to Bondi, Altman describes the indemnification as “an extra-territorial tax imposed by the Expressway Authority.”
The marine industry and small downtown commercial centers expect to be impacted as boaters are delayed by drawbridge closures — as many as 32 times a day. In addition to the trains’ potential negative impact on residential and downtown areas in Brevard and Indian River counties, Altman is also concerned that residents of the Space and Treasure coasts are not represented on the Central Florida Expressway Authority, which oversees most toll roads in Lake, Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.
According to a report filed today by Jim Turner with The News Service of Florida, such a change would require approval from the Legislature. This past session, lawmakers expanded and renamed the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority as the Central Florida Expressway Authority. Expressway Authority spokesman Jeff Marshall reportedly said he hadn’t read Altman’s letter but that he could see how the senator came to such a conclusion.
“If there is something in our right-of-way that would reduce our traffic, we would have to be compensated,” Marshall said.
Altman’s letter comes amid vocal opposition to the passenger service from most Treasure Coast governments, some business groups and affluent residential groups in northern Palm Beach and Martin counties. The concerns are financial as well as about safety and quality of life. Meanwhile, opponents contend tourism and property values would drop due to the trains, which could also create noise within wealthy gated communities near the tracks.