Plans for autonomous vehicles to join Jacksonville's public transporation fleet and tearing down the Hart Bridge ramp system downtown are gaining steam with the award of a $25 million federal grant.
On Thursday Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced the city and JTA will each receive $12.5 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The city’s half of the money will be used to move forward with plans to tear down the ramp system that comes off the Hart Bridge and runs along Bay Street, while JTA’s portion will be used to move forward with plans to expand and modernize the Skyway monorail system with what’s become known as the Ultimate Urban Circulator program.
Those now-funded projects are part of a larger overall plan to turn Bay Street into a 3-mile "innovation corridor."
“It is a great day for transportation in Jacksonville,” said Curry in an statement emailed to WJCT News. “Our city scored two federal grants that will afford us the opportunity to enhance downtown access, improve traffic conditions and safety, and bolster innovation throughout our downtown footprint. We are incredibly grateful for our partnerships with Secretary Elaine Chao and the USDOT staff, Senator Marco Rubio, Representative John Rutherford, Representative Al Lawson and JTA CEO Nat Ford and his team. They are all true champions for our city of Jacksonville.”
The downtown ramp system will be demolished and replaced with pedestrian and bike friendly features at street level. A new signalized intersection at Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard will also be constructed and is expected to incorporate “smart technology.”
Bay Street/Gator Bowl Boulevard will also be widened and a new ramp at A. Philip Randolph Boulevard will be built along with what are being described as "other traffic calming improvements."
“The award of this grant money will allow JTA to execute the first phase of the anticipated Ultimate Urban Circulator (U²C), on Bay Street, from the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center to the City’s Entertainment District on the east side of the corridor,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel P. Ford Sr.
The U2C system will eventually replace the existing Skyway monorails, although the elevated tracks will be retained and used for the new autonomous electric vehicles that will also run at ground level along Bay Street.
Ultimately JTA hopes to also expand the system to San Marco, Riverside and Springfield. Although a specific driverless vehicle system hasn’t been announced, JTA has been actively testing autonomous vehicles that currently run along a small test track that was built between Metropolitan Park and Gator Bowl Boulevard.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who helped local officials pursue the money said Thursday, Working with Mayor Curry, I’m proud to have helped secure federal funding for Jacksonville Transit Authority’s Bay Street Innovation Corridor, and the City of Jacksonville’s Urban Core Riverfront Revitalization and Complete Streets project. These innovative projects will help increase connectivity, enhance safety and security, and promote smarter growth for the city of Jacksonville.”
Thursday’s announcement comes shortly after a new conceptual video for the Bay Jax Innovation Corridor was revealed. Other plans for Bay Street potentially include solar-powered sidewalks and roads along with traffic-guidance software and cameras.
“This federal investment in improving our transportation infrastructure and applying new technologies to our transit system are key to the next stages of growth for Jacksonville," said area U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, owned by Shad Khan, are also a part of the Bay Jax Innovation Corridor through a group called the North Florida Smart Region Coalition, which includes a host of members including the North Florida TPO.
Khan has advocated for the Hart Bridge ramp system to be removed as he looks to build an entertainment complex at Lot J at the sports complex. Khan’s long-term vision also includes a convention center and other developments that would stretch along Gator Bowl Boulevard from the stadium all the way to the Shipyards.