Tracking the train  

Boca Raton is not yet on board with All Aboard Florida – and that’s a good thing.

All Aboard Florida is the company planning to begin passenger train service between South Florida and Orlando late next year. The 16 daily trains each way would run on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, which All Aboard Florida’s parent company owns. In Boca Raton and most of Palm Beach County, those tracks run through downtowns, and therein lie the potential benefits and problems.

Ideally, the new passenger service—which All Aboard Florida claims will bring to this area tourists who otherwise might not leave the Disney/Universal complex—will lead to commuter rail service on the FEC, which would make it much more popular and practical than the current Tri-Rail on the CSX tracks farther west. Much must happen, however, for Boca and other cities to get that benefit.

The first priority is obtaining money for “quiet zones,” which are safety upgrades at FEC crossings that would obviate the need for train whistles. Without the quiet zones, many Boca Raton residents will consider the All Aboard Florida trains nothing but a hassle, and the city will have trouble selling downtown as a place to live.

Tonight, the Boca Raton City Council will approve a resolution supporting the Palm Beach-Broward application for a federal grant to help cover the $11.3 million still needed to create quiet zones throughout Palm Beach County. Delray Beach approved such a resolution last week. On Thursday, Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie will be in Washington to lobby on behalf of the grant.

Haynie said in an interview Monday that the city is seeking money not just from Congress but from all possible sources, including the Florida Legislature. “I’m confident,” she said, “that we’re going to get the funding.” But there is a new potential problem.

As Haynie explains, cost projections for quiet zones in Palm Beach County assume that All Aboard Florida will pay for all upgrades north of West Palm Beach, where the trains will reach 110 miles per hour after leaving the last South Florida station. (The others are in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.) But on Monday, The Palm Beach Post reported that the Federal Railroad Administration has criticized All Aboard Florida for seeking a lower safety designation than “sealed corridors”—the government’s preferred designation—north of West Palm. If the company balks, the cost to cities south of West Palm Beach for quiet zones would rise. The federal report says the company should pay those costs for sealed corridors.

Haynie, whose background is in transportation, believes that commuter service on the FEC track would be good for Boca Raton—with other changes. Notably, more freight traffic would have to be shifted from the FEC tracks to the CSX tracks. Cities, of course, would need to provide locations for stations. Boca has set aside 5 acres of city-owned land behind the new downtown library.

In northern Palm Beach County and in Martin and St. Lucie counties, residents have issues with All Aboard Florida—such as more frequent bridge closings—that Boca Raton doesn’t have. Haynie is right, though, when she says the company “must do a better job selling the merits” of its plan. The potential costs aren’t just about money.

Balance of power shifts                                   

If anyone still wondered whether Delray Beach’s election last month realigned the city commission, that doubt should have disappeared at the new commission’s March 27 organizational meeting.

On big issues—such as challenging the no-bid extension of the trash-hauling contract—Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Shelly Petrolia usually voted the opposite of Angeleta Gray and Adam Frankel, with Al Jacquet the potential swing vote. Jacquet narrowly won reelection, but Gray lost to Jordana Jarjura.

At the organizational meeting, Petrolia was named vice-mayor 3-2, with Frankel and Jacquet dissenting. On the choice of deputy vice-mayor, Frankel couldn’t get even a second of his nomination. The choice was Jarjura, putting the new commission majority of Glickstein, Petrolia and Jarjura in control, at least when it comes to titles. Best guess is that it also will hold true for votes.

Well-being index

Lists generate lots of Internet traffic. The mix of a list and content is called a “listicle.” Here’s one for Boca Raton, South Florida and the state.

Since 2008, the Gallup Organization and the group Healthways have issued a report about how Americans feel about themselves called the State of America Well-Being. The report is based on a survey covering six categories: Life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behavior and basic access to services. Leaders of the two organizations say, “For communities and countries, increasing citizens’ well-being yields a competitive advantage for economic development and job creation, and it lowers disease burden and health care costs.”

It’s hard to tell from the 2013 survey how Boca Raton or Delray Beach alone did. Boca, Delray and the rest of the area between Miami and Port St. Lucie are part of one metropolitan area of nearly 6 million people—the eighth-largest. Our area didn’t make the top 10 in rankings for large communities; that was Silicon Valley in California, with San Francisco second. Still, the report breaks down the numbers by congressional district.

Boca, Delray and coastal central Palm Beach and Broward counties are in District 22, which Lois Frankel represents. The 22nd dsitrict ranks 149th of 435 districts, at the top of the second of three tiers, even though the district ranks first among Florida’s 27 congressional districts in per capita income. Florida’s Seventh District, which includes suburban Orlando, did best, with a ranking of 48th. Next came the 21st District, which includes southwest Palm Beach County (Ted Deutch), at 79th, and the 23rd District, which is centered in western Broward (Debbie Wasserman-Schultz), at 84th.

But too many Florida districts rank in the bottom third. The 24th District, which includes some of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods, ranks 425th. Those numbers help to explain why Florida ranked 30th. That is an improvement from 42nd in 2011 but far behind, say, Iowa at 10th. The Florida survey involved almost 10,000 residents.

For decades, Florida sold climate. Nearing 20 million residents, though, Florida must think more about quality of life than quantity of population. The top five states in the survey were North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Montana—none of which is known for using climate as a draw. South Florida boosters may dismiss such reports because challenge conventional thinking, but that would be a mistake. A report on another area-by-area comparison will be in my Thursday report.

(See this link for the entire report.)

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About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.