The new Brightline train embarked on its maiden voyage from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale last week, and according to a new report, the train system could prove to be incredibly profitable to the Sunshine State.
Florida is expected to have a population of more than 25 million by 2035, which means more congestion on Florida highways. But one transportation industry -- All Aboard Florida -- could prove beneficial to changing the face of transportation in Florida, all while boosting the state’s economy.
On Tuesday, Florida TaxWatch released a report showing All Aboard Florida could not only lessen traffic on the roadways, but also benefit Florida’s economy by more than $915 million.
According to the report, All Aboard Florida’s express train service, Brightline, will divert around 1.5 million passengers each year from roadways when it is fully operational from Miami to Orlando.
The trip will take around three hours and, according to the report, the express train is projected to create around 1,100 new jobs to the state -- but not everything has been a walk in the park for AAF officials.
The railway project has been the source of criticism and legal challenges from the Treasure Coast.
Martin County, Indian River County and CARE FL -- the public-private partnership that filed suit in early 2015 -- argued in federal court the U.S. Department of Transportation violated the National Environmental Protection Act when it approved $1.75 billion of tax-free financing to All Aboard Florida before a final environmental review was completed.
The judge validated the partnership's arguments in an important court ruling in August, and soon after, All Aboard Florida ditched its plan to use $1.75 billion in bonds and instead sought a new structure for its tax-free financing. A federal court judge dismissed the counties’ suit but said they could “readily” bring back the suit, which the counties announced they intended to do earlier this month.
Even federal politicians have questioned the source of funding for the railway project -- last summer, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., criticized AAF for “obstructing the truth” from Florida citizens.
“Despite their dishonest claims to the contrary, All Aboard Florida has repeatedly pursued public, taxpayer-funded financing,” Mast said.
Brightline CEO Dave Howard has said Brightline still plans to seek a federal loan to help fund that phase of the project, but he keeps mum on details, and attorneys for the counties and CARE FL still are convinced they're getting bang for their buck with the lawsuit.
Florida TaxWatch disagrees, saying the legal challenges are wasteful.
“Public officials should use caution when spending taxpayer money to fund unwise lawsuits, especially when reasonable compromises that would benefit everyone are available,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro. “In order to continue our role as a leading tourist destination, we must encourage projects like All Aboard Florida that will preserve our beautiful state without the taxpayers footing the bill.”
Florida TaxWatch did note it wasn’t “too late” for both parties to settle their disagreement and put a stop somewhere in the Treasure Coast area, though one has not yet been planned.
Construction on the train’s service to Orlando is still underway.