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Study: Miami-Orlando Passenger Rail Would Boost Fla. Economy by $6.4B

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May 21 --Construction of the planned passenger rail line that links Miami and Orlando would generate more than 10,000 jobs during its two-year construction, according to a consultant's analysis released Wednesday.

The project also would add $6.4 billion to Florida's economy over the next eight years, according to The Washington Economics Group Inc. , which was hired by All Aboard Florida to measure the economic impact of its proposal.

That impact includes $2.4 billion in labor income through 2021 and $653 million in tax revenue.

After construction is completed, an additional 5,000 jobs per year would be created through 2021, mostly through development around the line's four planned stations in downtown Fort Lauderdale , downtown West Palm Beach , downtown Miami and Orlando International Airport.

"The benefits accrued to the state and to the counties serviced along the corridor go beyond the quantifications of economic impact by encouraging further business development and providing support to key Florida industries such as travel and hospitality, while also improving the mobility of the labor force," said Dr. Tony Villamil , the consultant who prepared the report.

Total expected impact in Broward : $333 million , including the creation of nearly 500 rail line constructon jobs between 2014 and 2016. Those jobs would generate more than $54 million in income, the report said.

Development around a planned downtown Fort Lauderdale station would generate more than 300 jobs between 2014 and 2020 and more than $121 million in labor income. By 2021, there would be 113 ongoing jobs tied to the rail line's operation.

The rail line is expected to generate a total of $164 million in Palm Beach County , including 952 jobs with more than $107 million in income. Construction and development around a downtown West Palm Beach station will create more than 170 jobs and 68 ongoing jobs to tied operations in the county.

The counties that won't have stations will still benefit, the report said, due to construction spending and maintenance of the tracks. About $2 billion in economic impact from rail construction will be spread across the eight counties in which the trains will travel, including Miami-Dade , Broward , Palm Beach , Martin , St. Lucie , Indian River , Brevard and Orange counties.

All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries , plans to launch the passenger service in 2016. It would run 32 passenger trains daily on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Miami and Cocoa , then west on new tracks to Orlando .

"As two mutually reinforcing businesses -- passenger rail and transit-oriented development -- with direct benefits from each made possible through private investment, All Aboard Florida leads to a cycle of additional investment and economic opportunity, " said Mike Reininger , President and Chief Development Officer of All Aboard Florida.

Beyond economic impact, officials said the train will meet the needs of 9 million residents. An estimated 50 million each year already travel between Miami and Orlando and within the planned 235-mile route, often on clogged roads at rush hour.

The train will make the trip between Miami and Orlando in 3 hours. It will take 2 hours, 20 minutes from Fort Lauderdale and 1 hour, 45 minutes from West Palm Beach .

But the train is facing opposition in Fort Lauderdale among boaters, who are outraged they'll face more waits for bridge openings as the trains crisscross over the New River .

Officials in the Treasure Coast , north of Jupiter , oppose the service because they say they'll have to deal with noise and blocked crossings but will not have any stops.

The plans are under scrutiny by the Federal Rail Administration , which will issue an environmental impact statement soon. The project also will be subject to approvals from the U.S. Coast Guard , because of waterway crossings, including at the New River in Fort Lauderdale and the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter , and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers .

To quiet the train horns, communities along the tracks will have to pay to improve railroad crossings, including extended gates, raised medians and other protective measures.

The growing controversy has led U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel , D- West Palm Beach , and Patrick Murphy , D- Jupiter , to ask the federal officials to hold the project to the highest safety and environmental standards before approving a $1.5 billion loan that rail officials say is needed to complete the track work.

Silencing those train horns will cost $23.4 million at 67 crossings in Palm Beach County and $17.1 million at 115 in Broward County . The two counties have teamed up to apply for $20 million federal rail safety grant to help pay for the work, which they would match with $20 million in local money. Grants will be announced in September.

mturnbell@tribune.com , 954-356-4155, Twitter @MikeTurnpike, Facebook at SunSentinel.com/concreteideas

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(c)2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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