Fort Pierce, Florida – The question of where to locate a Brightline station has been a major concern on the Treasure Coast. However, the City of Fort Pierce has taken an important step to address this issue. During a City Commission meeting on Monday, a unique interlocal agreement between the city and the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) of St. Lucie County was approved to design a future Brightline platform in downtown Fort Pierce. This move signals the city’s willingness to move forward with a Brightline station, while also demonstrating a commitment to investing creatively in its transportation infrastructure.
Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson spoke about the significance of the agreement at the Monday meeting, stating: “One of the things I’ve been asked is, ‘Does this mean we’re going to get a station?’ What it means is we’re showing them we’re ready to have a station.” Mayor Hudson also spoke with Kate Hussey of WPTV on the telephone, adding that a Brightline station in Fort Pierce could compensate for the negative impacts a high-speed train might potentially bring to the area. “If this train is going to hurtle through this area, with all the safety disadvantages of these high-speed trains, at least with a stop you get an advantage, people will go fishing here, take advantage of what we have to offer,” she said.
Peter Buchwald, the Executive Director of the TPO of St. Lucie County, shared that the city is considering two potential spots for a railway station. The first is an old depot lot behind the Sunrise Theater, while the other option is the former H.D. King Plant on the waterfront. “These are vacant, undeveloped properties that would be suitable for development, they’re right in the heart of downtown and adjacent to the tracks,” said Buchwald.
Buchwald’s team will work out the details with input from Brightline. The plan will outline what the stations will look like, how they will connect to the rest of the city, and the benefits of each location. One of the direct advantages will be to commuters. “We’ve done studies, close to 20,000 commuters are going to Palm Beach County and beyond a day,” said Buchwald, who added it’s a significant increase from years past.
Once the plans are finalized, the TPO hopes to move forward with either Brightline or even another passenger train service station, like Tri-Rail or Amtrak. Buchwald has said that this partnership is a continuation of an effort that began in 2010 to establish a passenger rail station in Fort Pierce and extend Amtrak service. It then gained momentum again in 2018 when the Board endorsed a Brightline station in Fort Pierce. With the latest partnership, the TPO has incorporated more than $350,000 in funding from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act for the project.
Pete Tesch, the President of St. Lucie County’s Economic Development Council, believes a train station in downtown Fort Pierce will have a significant impact on the economic development of the area. “Just think about people traveling from Miami to Orlando and stopping at Fort Pierce, staying in hotels, participating in other establishments,” said Tesch, who also remarked that he believed that it would create more job opportunities, particularly in the marina industry. Both proposed locations are in walking distance of several downtown businesses, like the Sunrise City Cafe. Its owner, Nichole Parker, said, “I think [a Brightline station here] would be awesome for us and everybody around us. Businesses would really boom. We’re not right off U.S. 1, so it’s hard for them to find us, but if that [station] was here, that would definitely bring a lot more business.”
Commissioners are planning to meet again on June 12 to discuss their Brightline project. Brightline plans to build a railway platform somewhere on the Treasure Coast within the next five years but has not released information about where it will be. This partnership is therefore a preemptive step, with the city demonstrating its readiness to accommodate a Brightline station when one is announced.