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Public meeting set on Florida railroad bridge changes

The Coast Guard scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday night in Hollywood, Fla., to hear comments on proposed changes to the operation of the Florida East Coast Railroad Bridge across the New River in Fort Lauderdale in connection with a proposed high-speed passenger rail service.

The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Anne Kolb Nature Center at West Lake Park, 751 Sheridan St., and the Marine Industries Association of South Florida is urging industry members to attend and voice their concerns.

One of those concerns is the impact of the rail service on marine businesses if the bridge is open for less than 40 minutes an hour. An increase in closings or a failure of the bridge would disrupt vessel traffic and affect businesses that are dependent on the river, the MIASF said, adding that a draft environmental impact statement has the bridge closed 50 percent of the time, not including failures.

Navigability of the New River requires that the bridge be open for the majority of the time, the MIASF said. The majority of the boatyards in Broward County are west or upstream of the bridge.

The proposed express rail service would start in Miami and end at Orlando International Airport, with intermediate stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. All Aboard Florida proposes to operate hourly service from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with 16 trains running in each direction daily — 32 a day. That’s probably two an hour crossing the St. Lucie railroad bridge, and it doesn’t include the freight trains from the ports of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and other cities that use the FEC tracks.

Bill Biggs, managing principal of Riverwatch Marina & Boatyard on the St. Lucie River in Stuart, told Soundings Trade Only that the rail service would be the kiss of death for marinas, boatyards and builders west of the Florida East Coast Railroad drawbridge on the river, which is the east end of the Okeechobee Waterway running across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic.

“I’m not against commerce, but they need to come up with a better plan that can work and doesn’t destroy other businesses along the way,” he said.

Boaters and marine businesses on Fort Lauderdale’s New River, Jupiter’s Loxahatchee River and Stuart’s St. Lucie stand to be most directly affected by the increased train traffic on the drawbridges, said K.C. Traylor, a boater and founder of FloridaNotAllAboard.net, a group that is collecting signatures in a petition drive to quash the train service or move it west, beyond heavily populated coastal regions of the state where people live, work and use their boats.

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