Re Carl Hiaasen’s July 20 column Taxpayers: Prepare to be railroaded: I question how much Hiaasen understands environmentalism, urban economies, and basic principles of livability and sustainability. Every time the Metropolitan Planning Organization and FDOT has built another billion dollar highway interchange or other heavily subsidized project that benefits the automobile, Hiaasen has been silent. But now he protests a mostly private venture, All Aboard Florida, that will revitalize rail on an existing corridor? Does he not understand that without this very rail corridor, there would be no cities, towns, and villages in Florida? Right now, we are staring at the combined threats of fossil fuel depletion and the need to address climate change. If civilization is to continue in Florida, the revival of passenger rail at all scales — commuter rail, street cars, and intercity — will be necessary.
The Florida East Coast Railway owns the right-of-way, and has owned it for a century. Hiaasen should direct his frustration to the MPOs and local municipalities who have failed to provide the intersection upgrades and grade-separated crossings even though the revival of this passenger rail corridor has been in the works for decades. It was MPOs’ and towns’ responsibility to plan around an existing railroad, not the railroad’s. As for the quality of life of those who live next to it, this reflects the perils of purchasing real estate next to a highway or railroad. It is foolish to purchase a house at the end of an active airport runway and then complain that an increase in flights will disturb our silence.
Hiaasen seems to resent the fact that enormous real-estate value will be unleashed around the stations. Why should the railroad or any of the owners be deprived of the benefit of their investment? This has always been a significant strategy in financing rail projects. This is more than can be said for highways, which often remove tax producing parcels and smother economic vibrancy of inner city neighborhoods, as was the case with Overtown, which was eviscerated during the construction of I-95 and I-395.
We are working on a similar revival of passenger rail on the Gulf Coast of Florida, which we hope to hook into later phases of All Aboard Florida that will service Tampa. Any true environmentalist will realize that rail brings benefits to the economy, reduces emissions and pollution, and spurs compact urban form that discourages sprawl. We are thrilled that Florida’s cities finally are moving toward a future that is less dependent on the automobile.
Andrew Georgiadis, principal urban designer, Urban Design Studio, Sarasota