A Florida state board's Aug. 5 agreement to issue $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds on behalf of a controversial 235-mile passenger-rail line project signals a key victory for the private company developing the Miami-to-Orlando system. Though All Aboard Florida (AAF) has started to build the $2.5-billion line’s major components, including stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the Florida Development Finance Corp.'s approval of the bonding plan was viewed as key to building the rail line’s infrastructure.
The approval followed the Federal Railroad Administration releasing its final environmental statement, which indicated mostly minor impacts from the project.
In July, AAF hired Archer Western Contractors to construct the railway and related work at Orlando International Airport, one of the passenger line’s terminus points. Earlier this year, the developer hired Archer Western to begin work on the system’s 66.5-mile Miami-to-West Palm Beach segment—to be built mostly upon existing infrastructure and including upgrades to existing track, rail signals and structural work.
The 168.5-mile north segment—connecting West Palm Beach and Orlando, with no stops in between and where trains could hit 110 mph—generated the most pushback from grassroots groups and municipalities. After these groups campaigned against AAF’s plan to fund the project’s construction via a $1.5-billion federal loan, the company changed course and sought the use of tax-exempt bonds.
Critics, such as K.C. Traylor of opposition group Florida Not All Aboard, assert that AAF may find few takers for the bonds due to the rail line’s unprofitable economics.
"We wholeheartedly believe that this is not a done deal," says Traylor. "This was a very small win for them."
The fight will go on, she adds, noting: “We do see the next steps in court."
Reached by ENR, All Aboard Florida declined to comment.