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Passenger transit plan for FEC rail on track

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This is much needed to connect the urban areas of south florida.

Passenger transit plan for FEC rail on track

Brian Bandell

The plan to connect downtowns from Miami to Jupiter through commuter service along the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad has gone from pipe dream to a locomotive with million-dollar momentum.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will run ads July 12 seeking a consultant to study options for putting public transit along the FEC, said Scott Seeburger, special project manager for FDOT. A contract should be executed in December with work starting in January and lasting two or three years, he said.

The study could cost from $5 million to $6 million, said Seeburger, who will manage the project.

The South Florida Regional Transpor-tation Authority (SFRTA) is partnering on the study.

"There's no doubt that the economic benefits of having something on the FEC corridor are huge," said Jonathan Roberson, SFRTA's transportation planning manager. "If you can get cars off the road ... that would solve a lot of problems."

Local business leaders have been working on the proposal for years and were able to obtain $500,000 in federal funds to sponsor an SFRTA study.

The results of that study, completed last year, along with booming residential downtown development, increased support for their proposal within county agencies, said Claire Vickery, a planner coordinating the effort for her own company.

"I've seen a radical departure from those people who said a few years ago that it never will happen," she said. "It will cost a lot, but it will be well worth it with the new homes and jobs it will create."

The cost could be between $800 million and $1 billion, Vickery said. She estimated that local governments would be asked to fund 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost.

Property value increases along the corridor due to redevelopment could more than cover the cost, she said.

The study will examine transit options, including commuter trains sharing the existing tracks with freight, separate tracks for heavy or light rail and rapid bus transit similar to the system running along U.S. 1 in southern Miami-Dade County.

The transit mode could differ by county or be connected to county transit or Tri-Rail, Roberson said.

Florida East Coast Industries (NYSE: FLA) supports the effort to put passenger service on its corridor, as long as it doesn't interfere with its freight operations, said Husein Cumber, VP of public affairs for the St. Augustine-based company.

The FEC hosts 25 to 30 trains a day through South Florida, keeping 1 million trucks off the highways every year, he said.

"The Eastward Ho movement only adds to the need for some type of public transportation along the corridor," Cumber said. "It links all the downtowns and it's got great potential for business commuters."

There's no question that transit along the corridor would result in redevelopment, Boca Raton Mayor Steven Abrams said. He notes a site near Palmetto Park Road he thinks could make a good stop.

"This would open up more commuter possibilities for people if it were in the more densely populated eastern side of town," he said. "You could take the train and then be able to walk to different destinations in the downtown area."

Some have already gotten a head start. Ellis Diversified's 272-unit Wilton Manors condo along the railroad is called Wilton Station.

President Jim Ellis said there's plenty of opportunity to redevelop industrial land. He is close to buying another property along the railroad to convert into a high-rise.

"If there were passengers on the line, we would have lobbied to have a stop near our development," Ellis said.

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I really hope this is a success! If they build a station in Delray Beach, I could walk to it, since it's near my school. I wonder if Tri-Rail will lose any ridership from this new line. The urban areas are much better destinations that I-95, lol.

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wouldn't these sort of be conflicting trains if they build it? Why didn't tri-rail initially become the commuter train? It doesn't seem like South Florida has a cohesive plan for transit, things are going to start overlaping.

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Hmmm, I may have to move back down to Stuart, where I lived a few years back. From there I'd be just a hop and a skip from the rail !

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