Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Waiting at a drawbridge? Horrors

Boaters, lacking a sense of irony, are leading the fight against All Aboard Florida.

They worry that a Miami-to-Orlando passenger train service, as it crosses drawbridges over the New River in Fort Lauderdale, the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River in Stuart, might inconvenience yachties. “The adverse impacts on navigation are second to none," declared Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

Imagine their horror. Forced to wait at a drawbridge.

The motorists among us, those who occasionally cross the bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway or the Miami River or the New River, can understand their ire. We've sat in long clots of traffic, our idling cars sucking up fuel, our wait sucking up time, while a single boat motors ever so slowly through an open drawbridge.

It doesn't help that the bridges’ raised spans seem to reach heavenward in a kind of salute, as if those of us stuck in our automobiles, on our way to eight or nine hours behind a desk, are paying homage to the aristocracy, off for a day of fishing or sailing or just tooling around. If we're lucky, the ubiquitous bikini-clad young woman lounging on the bow might wave to us land-bound suckers. Is that a rum drink she's sipping?

I found an old government transportation study, circa 1990, that calculated motorists in Broward County alone waited 1,314 hours each day while boats passed through the raised drawbridge spans. The study concluded that drawbridge waits cost Broward drivers about $720,000 a year in fuel, as their cars pumped 4,057 pounds of carbon monoxide and 270 pounds of hydrocarbons into the air.

I'm guessing, 24 years later, the time and fuel and pollution costs have not gotten any prettier.

Not that we complain. OK, we grumble. But South Floridians accept that boating is integral to South Florida’s economy. So we wait. We read our email, fiddle with the radio, text message the boss to explain why we're going to be late to that crucial meeting. We pray the creaky old drawbridge won't get stuck in the raised position. We sacrifice our time and fuel to the community's greater good.

Yet the boating crowd can't abide the thought that they might, in turn, be delayed by a speedy passenger train crossing one of those three drawbridges. So the marine industry has joined efforts to sabotage a project that would pump $1.5 billion into the southern Florida economy and build dazzling new train stations and retail centers along some rundown trackside areas in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Boaters have joined up with cranks worried about train whistles and 60-second waits at street train-crossings to undermine a privately financed alternative to that mind-numbing drive up Florida’s Turnpike to Orlando. They're trying to kill a fast rail-link that would shuffle tourists between Disney World and Miami. Because they find the thought of waiting at a drawbridge intolerable.

Down below decks, our impatient yachties have stowed a lot of gall.