In recent weeks, opponents of All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) Brightline project insist they have scored some major victories against the expansion of high-speed rail. Groups like Citizens Against The Train (CATT) have boasted the main reason why AAF’s expansion has slowed is because of taxpayer-funded lawsuits against the project.
In an email earlier this month, CATT insisted, “ Our tax dollars have been well spent and the legal actions approved by our commissioners are making a major difference.”
But are the lawsuits actually working and slowing down the expansion process? That depends on who you ask.
AAF maintains it is continuing to expand and Brightline is on track. The company’s website chronicles the progress it claims to be making. As of December, Brightline’s first full train is complete and will be arriving in Florida soon. This first train will begin testing in Palm Beach County early this year.
In addition, the stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach are 70 percent complete. The stations are undergoing interior work including HVAC, plumbing and other outfittings. At Miami Central, the installation of the Florida I-Beams (FIBS) for the elevated track is nearing completion. The three Miami Central office building have been topped off. Grade crossing improvements in Broward and Palm Beach counties are nearing completion.
But CATT and other opponents of the project insist this is just a smoke screen, that maintaining Brightline’s expansion is nowhere where it should be. CATT and other opponents insist their legal challenges have helped slow down the process.
AAF counters that this is to be expected when dealing government agencies, even as their permits with government entities like the South Florida Water Management District and the St. Johns River Water Management District are going through. But none of this impresses the opponents who say they will continue the fight using taxpayer dollars to stop the train.
In 2016, Indian River County approved spending $3 million to go after Brightline. County Commissioner Tim Zorc says he continues to support spending more if it’s needed to stop the train.
In Brevard County, Cocoa Mayor Henry Parrish, a proponent of the train, says he’s always been against using tax dollars against Brightline.
“Can you imagine what my city could do with $3 million of the taxpayers money?” he asked. “We could fix the roads, hire more cops and ensure fire and safety for our citizens.”
Parrish also questions why elected officials are using public money to sue a train that will bring in jobs and revenue to the local economy.
Newly elected Indian River County Commissioner Susan Adams told the Republican Women of Indian River County that she does not support the train going through her neighborhood but that doesn’t mean she backs continued taxpayer-funded challenges to it.
“If the county is not winning on the lawsuits and Brightline continues to expand, then we need to have a plan B and we should maybe reevaluate how we are spending taxpayers’ dollars,” Adams said.
Ed Lynch, a resident of Palm Beach County and a political commentator for the Florida Radio Network, even questions the popularity of the public funded lawsuits against Brightline.
“Listening to the opponents of the train, you would think this is the biggest issue on the Treasure Coast,” Lynch said.
Pointing to TC Palm’s top stories on the Treasure Coast for 2016, Lynch says if you look at them the “train controversy” didn’t even make the list.
Parrish told Sunshine State News he agrees and wonders why taxpayer funds are still being used to challenge the train project.
“If this isn’t the big issue that some make it out to be, then why are some elected officials continuing to push through unpopular taxpayer-funded lawsuits?" Parrish asked. “Who's driving this narrative?”
Reach Ed Dean, senior editor at Sunshine State News, at EdDean29@yahoo.com.