• The Florida Department of Transportation has proposed closing this rail crossing at North Front Street and the west end of Dade Street by the Port of Fernandina in exchange for allowing the rail crossing at North Front and Alachua streets to be opened in downtown Fernandina Beach. Photo by Michael Miller/News-Leader

New FDOT idea: Close Dade St. to open Alachua

Potential effect on port operations is unknown

A Florida Department of Transportation official who previously suggested closing Centre Street at the railroad crossing between Front and Second streets as a mandated offset in order to open the Alachua Street rail crossing has now proposed the closure of the Dade Street railroad crossing.

In a March 25 email, Laura Regalado wrote to City Manager Dale Martin, “The FDOT supports the opening of a crossing at Alachua St. ... However, the FDOT agrees that one closure should occur. We had suggested centre street (sic), which is not an option. Dade street (sic) is now being considered.”

Regalado added, “The FDOT supports this and is moving forward with the city on this option … FDOT is meeting with the city in the next few weeks (to) move forward with the Dade street (sic) closure.”

Martin said Wednesday that Dade Street would be the “least impacted” by a closure of a rail crossing if the City Commission continues to pursue the opening of Alachua Street.

The entrance to the Port of Fernandina is just east of the rail crossing on Dade Street, and Martin said the city and state are considering how the port might be affected by the proposed closure.

“I had a lunch meeting with Adam (Salzburg) and said, ‘Here’s some of the things that are on the table, that are under consideration,’” Martin said.

Salzburg is the chairman of the Ocean Highway and Port Authority, which is in charge of the port, though Kinder Morgan manages the day-to-day operations under a contract with the port.

Salzburg spoke briefly Wednesday with the News-Leader: “Without looking at the entire plan, I would choose not to comment. That is one part of the overall port.”

Val Schwec, the commercial director for the Southeast region for Kinder Morgan Terminals, which manages the Fernandina port, also declined to comment on the FDOT proposal.

“I’m not involved with that. I’d have to look at all the details, and I don’t have any details,” he said.

Schwec, who has worked at the port for nearly 30 years but announced last month that he is leaving for a new position, said nobody from the city or FDOT has contacted him.

Martin said, “This is not something that is unilaterally done … FDOT and the railroad people are talking to the state port people to find out, ‘Hey, does this affect the port?’ There’s also discussion of can we somehow use this as a way to improve or enhance port security? What are the opportunities?”

A bill currently being considered in the state House of Representatives is calling for $5 million in port improvements, including “a new dock mounted multipurpose crane” as well as “a new 50,000 sqft steel framed covered warehouse for import/export customers.”

House Bill 3859 states, “10 full time permanent jobs would be created at the conclusion of the construction; 4 warehouse, 4 waterfront stevedoring, and 2 crane operators. These jobs ($55,000+ per year) will have higher than average annual compensation.”

City commissioners have unsuccessfully pursued the opening of the Alachua Street crossing for a decade, but interest has intensified over the past year as major changes are headed for the downtown area, including a 78,000-square-foot hotel to be located on Second Street between Alachua and Broome streets.

The City Commission came under heavy fire over the Centre Street proposal during a January workshop originally intended to gather public input on the future of the city’s waterfront. The commission eventually rejected the FDOT proposal before instructing Martin to continue exploring ways to open the Alachua Street crossing.



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