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Florida governor seeks longer public comment period for All Aboard Florida proposal

Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday asked All Aboard Florida President and Chief Development Officer Michael Reininger to request the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extend a public comment period on the railroad's environmental impact statement from the current 75 days to 90 days to better accommodate community concerns about the project.

In a letter to Reininger, Scott wrote he has heard "questions and concerns" about the private railroad's proposed passenger-rail service between Miami and Orlando.

"We must ensure that there is a detailed conversation about this new rail service. Many families are worried about how these additional trains will affect their neighborhoods and their concerns should be heard," the governor wrote.

Scott also said he has assigned Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Ananth Prasad to meet with community leaders and area legislators to listen to their concerns about the project and "ensure their concerns are heard" by the FRA.

All Aboard Florida has applied for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan through the FRA, and federal processes required for loan approval include ensuring the project complies with 26 individual federal regulations, Scott wrote. To better enable federal officials to do what’s best for Florida families, the state will supply input from communities to those who are overseeing this project, he stated.

The additional comment period will enable communities to have their specific concerns about the project addressed, the governor wrote.

"Specifically, the communities surrounding the railroad drawbridges over the New River, St. Lucie River and Loxahatchee River have raised concerns about the impacts from this proposed project," Scott's letter stated. "I understand that All Aboard Florida has taken specific steps for the New River Crossing including the reduction of the bridge cycle to limit the delays faced by boaters. During the public comment period, please also review the situation at the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee river crossings to address local concerns."

In a response to Scott, All Aboard Florida's Reininger noted the company's ongoing outreach and education efforts on the proposed project in a posting on All Aboard Florida's website.

He also noted that the railroad is aware of project misinformation circulating in some communities that have caused some of the concerns. All Aboard Florida is continuing to try to clarify facts and details associated with the project, Reininger wrote.

"We share your desire for a full and transparent examination of our project," he wrote, adding that the railroad — in response to a previous request from Scott – expressed to the FRA that it is willing to increase the public forums and time frame associated with reviews once the draft environmental statement is made public by the FRA.

"Ultimately, the FRA must define the appropriate timing and schedule of the required reviews under the EIS process," Reininger wrote. "We respectfully defer to their decision on this matter."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/11/2014