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Rail crossing plans disregard our local input


Long-awaited construction plans for the railroad tracks that will carry All Aboard Florida appear to have been crafted in a void, according to Indian River County officials, who say engineers failed to take into account a vast amount of important data provided to them about the thoroughfares, buildings and the community surrounding the planned fast-train corridor.

County Public Works Director Chris Mora and his staff last week printed out large-scale copies of the 98 pages of blueprints, known as the 100 percent design plan, provided to local governments by All Aboard Florida. About 30 people, including anti-train activists and county and Vero public officials, showed up to discuss the plans. All Aboard Florida also sent a handful of people from out of town to mix it up with the locals and advocate for the project.

Plans only depict the anticipated construction needed for crossings – not for general corridor safety along the miles of track in between the crossings. The county as a whole has 32 crossings – eight within the City of Vero Beach, 16 in the unincorporated county and eight in the City of Sebastian.

Trains will barrel through 26 of the 32 crossings at 110 miles an hour. Three crossings – 14th Avenue, 26th Street and 8th Street – are marked with a maximum speed of 90 mph, while crossings at Roseland Road, plus 4th Street and 1st Street in the south county, are designated “low speed,” meaning trains will only flash through at 79 mph.

At least eleven crossings will need an added median – or an extension of an existing median – and those will need to be reviewed and permitted by the county or city government.

Commissioner Wesley Davis pointed out on the plans for Downtown Vero Beach that a planned median would prohibit left-hand turns out of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce parking lot, which also serves traffic from the Heritage Center, Pocahontas Park and shuffleboard courts, as well as the Vero Beach Community Center.

Davis was also upset that the crossing gate and signal plans did not take into account any of the road-widening work the county has planned for the next few years.

“We gave All Aboard Florida all that information on any roads that we’re set to widen, but they didn’t include that, so when we widen the road, all that will have to be torn up and re-done,” Davis said, pointing to drawings of safety gates. “And when that happens, we, the county, will have to pay for it. That’s going to cost the taxpayers money.”

Davis showed this troublesome detail to Councilwoman Pilar Turner, who was on hand to review the plans, and later to Councilman Harry Howle, who looked at the plans and listened to worries expressed by local residents about everything from decreased property values to how the potential bisecting of the community might interfere with emergency vehicles carrying people to and from the hospitals.

About 10 or so drawings down from where Davis was looking at Downtown Vero, Commissioner Tim Zorc was especially concerned about several of the plan documents that in his opinion did not provide adequate safety features for students heading to and from school. He and Mora shared their dismay that county officials would now need to navigate All Aboard Florida’s comment process to try to get those inadequacies addressed.

“The drawings we are looking at were for the 45th Street crossing area,” Zorc said. “The drawings were clearly missing safety enhancements for sidewalks relating to Gifford Middle School that were not located on the plan, which was a big disappointment. Over 18 months ago, we provided All Aboard Florida with the safety enhancements for that crossing but they chose not to include them.”

Neither the County Commission nor Vero’s City Council has reviewed or commented on the design plans as governing bodies yet. The plans were delivered electronically to county and city officials on May 5, and Mora said last week he was unclear what the deadline was for the county or the public to raise concerns and make comments.

With regard to the multitude of “utility conflicts” identified in the plans, where crossings interfere with pipes, poles and lines, Mora said the county is required to move any water or wastewater pipes that are in the way, provided they are located within the designated 100-foot wide corridor that is under the railroad’s domain.

Utility conflicts involve not only water and sewer lines, but also natural gas, electric and fiber-optic telecommunications lines that run throughout the county.

Mora and Vero Public Works Director Monte Falls both had separate meetings scheduled with the Federal Rail Administration and All Aboard Florida officials last Thursday, but neither had responded at press time to requests for comment on the outcome of those meetings. Mora retired last Friday after 30 years of service to the county.