After years of speculation, anticipation, protests and lawsuits, the Treasure and Space coasts soon could see All Aboard Florida transition from much-discussed concept to brightly colored reality.
The company last week announced that work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport, could begin as early as next month.
A raft of financing and permitting approvals seem to back up these claims.
First, the company last week announced it had all necessary federal permits to begin work on Phase 2 and that it had received an important approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That approval, known as a record of decision, indicated that All Aboard Florida’s plan for track construction and passenger service on Phase 2, which includes the Treasure and Space coasts, complied with the National Environmental Policy Act.
It allows the company to move forward with its request for a $1.6 billion federal loan, one of two financing options that are in play for Phase 2.
The other financing option sought by All Aboard Florida —$1.15 billion of private activity bonds — also seems to be moving ahead.
The Department of Transportation on Friday approved bond allocation, according to All Aboard Florida. That approval is needed by the Florida Development Finance Corp., the state agency that issues the bonds, before it can proceed.
Brightline previously seemed to struggle to sell its private activity bonds, and last year canceled its original bond allocation, $1.75 billion issued by the finance corporation in August 2015. It opted instead to break its financing request into $600 million for Phase 1 and $1.15 billion for Phase 2.
This strategy evidently was more successful: The Wall Street Journal earlier this month reported that All Aboard Florida apparently had an easy time selling its bonds and had received $2 billion of bids on its $600 million offering.
Brightline CEO Dave Howard announced Friday it had closed on the $600 million bond sale.
The company continues to consider the federal loan and tax-free bonds to fund Phase 2, he said.
A polarizing topic, Brightline has proved popular in much of South Florida and Brevard County, but has faced opposition and legal challenges from Treasure Coast governments and residents.
The company in recent months cleared many of the roadblocks put up by opponents, including a federal lawsuit filed by Martin and Indian River counties and challenges to environmental permits filed by all three Treasure Coast counties.
Despite its recent momentum, Brightline has a history of delays in its timeline: The company originally said it would begin full Miami-to-Orlando service by 2014, according to a 2012 Associated Press report, but in 2014, it pushed the target date to 2016
Now, the company says service between Miami and West Palm Beach will begin in 2018, with the expansion to Orlando opening in 2020.
For months, Brightline has said service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale would begin by the end of this month, but seemed to back away from that Friday, instead saying only that it continues “working toward operational readiness with the Federal Railroad Administration for the launch of introductory service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and will release details soon.”
Brightline already has “presold” tickets and corporate packages to “individuals and businesses throughout the region,” Howard said.
The company said it is “finalizing the engineering and design for the rail infrastructure” for Phase 2, but declined to provide details about when local track work would begin.