A lawsuit challenging federal transportation officials’ decision to allow All Aboard Florida to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for its Brightline passenger train service will continue, a judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper denied motions to dismiss the case, saying the bonds are key to All Aboard Florida’s ability to complete the second phase of the rail line, which will run between West Palm Beach and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The first phase of the project, between Miami and West Palm Beach, is already under construction.
Martin and Indian River counties filed federal lawsuits last year against the U.S. Department of Transportation challenging whether All Aboard Florida is eligible for the private activity bonds. All Aboard Florida is an intervenor in the suit.
Martin officials on Wednesday called Cooper’s decision a “major victory” in the case.
“Judge Cooper’s opinion demonstrates that Martin County effectively used discovery to prove the issues its legal team had asserted a year ago, that Martin County had standing to sue for the violations of law and harm caused by those violations,” Martin County Attorney Michael Durham said Wednesday.
All Aboard Florida won preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation in December 2014 to issue the private activity bonds.
The company had planned to sell the bonds in 2015, but the tight municipal bond market forced the officials to shelve the sale.
All Aboard has received two extensions to sell the bond. The company has until Jan. 1 to complete the sale.
Martin and Indian River had sought an injunction to block the bond sale, saying, in part, that the money was not a linchpin to finishing the passenger rail line. Cooper denied the request for an injunction last year, saying the counties did not show that the rail project is dependent on the private activities bonds, or that their sale would influence the outcome of a federal environmental study examining the impact of the trains.
In his ruling Tuesday, Cooper said that after reviewing a “several-thousand-page evidentiary submission, including an expert declaration, as well as declarations from AAF officers” he found the bonds were critical to the success off the project.
“Based on the present record, the Court finds that invalidating DOT’s decision to authorize $1.75 billion in (private activity bonds) would significantly increase the likelihood that AAF would not complete Phase II of the project,” Tuesday’s ruling said.
All Aboard’s Brightline service plans to run 32 trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The company plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in mid-2017.
Meanwhile, All Aboard’s Brightline announced Wednesday that it has begun construction on a parking garage planned next to its station in Ft. Lauderdale.
The seven-story parking garage will hold 576 vehicles, and will include about 1,570 square feet of ground-floor retail, the company said.