New Tri-Rail station for Boca

The news is that Boca Raton will get a second Tri-Rail station. The more important news may be why Boca will get that station and what comes after.

The Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization has approved $8.5 million in federal money to go with another $8.5 million from the state. With that money, almost all of it from gasoline taxes, Tri-Rail will buy land and build a station along the CSX tracks near The Shops at Boca Center and Town Center at Boca Raton. Boca will become the only city in Palm Beach County to have two stations. Why Boca now? Potential demand, based on numbers from the city’s other station at Yamato Road just west of Interstate 95.

According to Tri-Rail, the Yamato Road station is the busiest of 17 on the line that runs from Mangonia Park, the tiny municipality northwest of West Palm Beach, to Miami. Near the Yamato Road station are the Arvida Park of Commerce and other business clusters, as well as Florida Atlantic University’s main campus.

Steven Abrams, the former Boca Raton mayor and council member who now represents the city on the county commission, regularly rides Tri-Rail to the county government center in West Palm Beach. When he boards at the Deerfield Beach station on Hillsboro Boulevard—Abrams lives in southeast Boca—“You barely can get on the train,” he said Wednesday. “Then you get to the Boca Raton station, and almost everybody gets off.” Abrams, who also serves on the Tri-Rail board, says one reason for the high ridership is the “well-funded shuttle bus service” that can get commuters quickly to their offices. Abrams says businesses pay part of the cost to operate the buses.

Ridership at the Boca Raton station is up roughly 35 percent since 2008. One reason, of course, is people seeking cheaper transportation after the Great Recession. A related factor could be that younger single people have been less inclined to buy cars. Tri-Rail says the largest increase is among riders between the ages of 16 and 24, and that more riders reach stations by bicycle. Whatever the reasons, the Boca Raton station not only has the biggest ridership but has seen the biggest surge in the last six years.

The second Boca station will be geared toward people who work and shop at Town Center and Boca Center. Of the four proposed sites, the preferred one is the former location of Kings Market on Military Trail just north of Boca Center. The land is vacant, a straight stretch of 100 feet fronts the track. Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie —who serves as the Palm Beach MPO chairman—says Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, which owns Boca Center, also owns the 12-acre potential site.

For Boca, the decision vindicates the city’s decision over several years to develop transit centers. For drivers, this is happening as the state moves ahead with expansion of express toll lanes on South Florida interstates. At this point, the state is planning for them on I-95 north to Linton Boulevard, but they could go farther north.

When I-95 is 10 lanes all the way to Linton, it can’t get any wider, practically speaking. Mass transit won’t replace cars, but even in car-happy Palm Beach County, transit could be a big asset for Boca Raton.

Bucher sings the ballot blues                   

According to news reports Wednesday, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher has told cities that they can’t put local items on the November ballot. Long ballots in November 2012—made longer in most cases by constitutional amendments from the Florida Legislature—made for long waits at the polls. Turnout will be lower this November, for a non-presidential election, but Bucher still has told cities they must put their issues on the Aug. 26 primary ballot or wait for city elections next March.

Bucher’s ultimatum will have no effect on the effort in Delray Beach to change the standard for firing the city manager. Commissioners who want Manager Louie Chapman gone already were planning to seek a vote in August that would require a simple majority vote of three commissioners, rather than the current supermajority vote of four. I’m told that Bucher for a time got cranky even about a local issue on the August ballot, but relented.

Maya Angelou

The news Wednesday of Maya Angelou’s death at 86 brought back memories of her appearance in 1995 at Florida Atlantic University.

Five thousand people filled the FAU auditorium to hear the woman who was best known as a poet and author but who also distinguished herself as an actress and dancer and as the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco. Angelou related in her 1970 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings how she set that goal for herself after being moved to San Francisco during a peripatetic youth, shuttled from town to town, raped by her mother’s boyfriend at age 8, which caused her to retreat from the world for several years.

There was no retreat at FAU. “See me now,” she told the audience, “poor in the South, black in the South, female in the South. “See me and see yourself.” 

Palm Beach needs $$$ for a fountain

It’s a request made for a punch line:

Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest towns in the country, wants $350,000 from the state for a fountain. What, it wasn’t enough that pressure from Palm Beach got Gov. Rick Scott to authorize extra state spending on repair work for the Flagler Memorial Bridge? Now, all those billionaires can’t pony up a measly 350 large for a fountain?

The amount represents just .45 ten-thousandths of the state budget, yet it offers another look into how things operate in Tallahassee. Depending on your perspective, this $350,000 is either a waste or an appropriation that got a deserved third look. Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio makes her case that it’s the latter.

The fountain, which sits in the square facing town hall, is the only one in Florida that Addison Mizner designed. Indeed, it’s the only fountain in the United States with a design by Mizner. His Boca Raton office is now part of a cluster near the old train station that includes the popular event venue Addison’s.

Palm Beach applied for the money through the state’s historic preservation program. According to Coniglio, the state approved the project in 2010, but the money never got into the budget. Florida at that point was depending on federal stimulus money to minimize cuts to basic services.

Nor did the money get into this year’s record $77.1 billion budget on the first try. With five other projects, House and Senate negotiators added the $350,000 as they reconciled the two versions of the budget. So Florida TaxWatch flagged the fountain project as a “turkey” and recommended that Scott veto it. TaxWatch noted that the Legislature “for the first time in man years” approved all the requested historic preservation, cultural and library grant programs, totaling $87 million. Legislators earmarked another $17 million worth of projects.

TaxWatch designates “turkeys” based on procedure than merit, which explains why the group flagged just $120 million worth, and why those items did not include $12 million from the state to a private college—Jacksonville University—that the House speaker, Will Weatherford, just happened to attend.

Coniglio says Palm Beach got help at the last minute from Sen. Jeff Clemens and Rep. Bill Hager. She adds that the fountain restoration is part of a $1.2 million improvement program for the square, with the town paying the rest. The fountain, modeled after the Fontana dei Cavalli Marini in Rome’s Borghese Gardens, was built in 1929. Two years ago, a consultant prepared a plan for restoring it.

Will the governor approve the money for Palm Beach? My guess is yes. The budget-cutting, tea party-loving Rick Scott of 2010 and 2011 is now the incumbent seeking a second term, based in large part on the size of the new budget and the local goodies in it. That’s also part of how things operate in Tallahassee.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

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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.