Commission gets behind Amtrak-FEC rail plan

Responding to a request from the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, local Historic City News reporters watched as St. Augustine city commissioners adopted a resolution last night indicating their support for the return of passenger rail service to the area.

In a 5-0 vote of support, commissioners reviewed and approved three major points of the proposed Amtrak-FEC rail corridor plan between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, with continuing service through to Miami.

Discussion ensued concerning which location was best suited for the proposed passenger rail station that would be constructed by Amtrak — if the rail plan is approved and funded. The “preferred” location for the station is at Carrera Street and Ponce de Leon Boulevard on property already owned by the Florida East Coast Railroad.

Commissioner Errol Jones pointed out that the alternate locations on San Marco Avenue and at the St. Augustine – St. Johns County Airport, were not within walking distance of downtown. Mayor Joe Boles supported the Carrera Street location because he thinks it is important to be close to the inter-modal hub that is being developed at the Historic Downtown Parking Facility at the Visitor Information Center.

Commissioner Freeman wanted to open the discussion to other possible locations including property behind Broudy’s Liquors, west of the San Sebastian River, however, Commissioner Jones pointed out that the resolution dealt only with prioritizing one of the three DOT-Amtrak approved locations. Jones went on to say that “the city needs to act quickly” if we want to see this plan become a reality.

Jones, who is the original commissioner to attend the transportation planning meetings for the City, said that, “optimistically”, the funding and construction could be approved within another year and construction could be complete within the next three years.

In public comments, 64 year-old perennial critic Betty Jane Kalaidi, who resides at 8 Newcomb Street, spoke in favor of the Carrera Street location; calling it the only “authentic” location being considered and implying that potential personal gain would cause any other location to be suspect.

At the conclusion, the Board resolved to support the proposed project, maintain the train station after it is constructed, and to designate the preferred location to be the Carrera Street location.

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