ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The president of a private company seeking to build a passenger rail from Miami to Orlando said Wednesday that the project will attract 5.4 million riders by 2020 and reduce congestion on Florida’s roadways.
Opponents of the project told a state board deciding whether All Aboard Florida should be able to issue $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds that the company didn’t need the bonds and taxpayers would suffer if they’re issued. They asked board members to postpone a vote and accused them of already making up their minds since they had communicated privately with company officials.
“The only financially responsible decision is to deny All Aboard Florida the right to issue these bonds,” said opponent Robert Crandall, a former CEO of American Airlines.
But All Aboard Florida President Michael Reininger on Wednesday told board members that the $2.25 billion project will create $6.4 billion in economic activity over eight years and remove millions of car trips from Florida’s roads.
A little under half of the projected passengers would travel just in South Florida, from Miami to West Palm Beach. More than half of the projected passengers would travel from Miami to Orlando, Reininger said.
He also said more than 40 percent of passengers would be leisure travelers and under a third would be business travelers.
“No state or county entity will have any exposure as a result,” Reininger said of the bond issuance. “Characterizing this as a subsidy is misleading.”
Local officials from Treasure Coast counties disagreed. They also said the passenger rail would create noise and safety problems.
Dylan Reingold, the attorney for Indian River County, said Treasure Coast counties would be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain and improve rail crossings.
“Please do not rely on the self-serving statements by All Aboard Florida,” Reingold said. “It will have a significant impact on the taxpayers of this state.”
The bonds would be unrated and be primarily marketed to institutional investors, according to All Aboard Florida.
Two members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Alan Grayson, spoke in favor of the rail project. Several state lawmakers from Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties spoke against the project.
Hundreds of supporters and opponents packed an Orlando hotel ballroom for the meeting. Melissa Ross said she was on one of two buses All Aboard Florida chartered to bring supporters from the Miami neighborhood, Overtown, to the meeting.