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State Funding Proposal Could Speed Up JAXPORT Deepening

ship at JAXPORT

JAXPORT could be getting an infusion of cash to cover a proposed deepening project if a Jacksonville state representative has his way.

Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville) has filed a bill that would steer more than $100 million into a fund dedicated for port improvements. But Jacksonville would have to compete with other major port cities for the money.

Jacksonville port officials are clamoring for approval of two very expensive projects: the deepening of the St. Johns River and a new rail line on the city’s Northside.

Larger ships and more trains would allow it to move more cargo, faster — all of which, proponents say, would help Jacksonville compete economically.

But the projects have a total estimated cost of close to $1 billion. And Ray wants to ensure there’s more state money in the pot.

“We want to make sure that we continue to invest in things utilizing our transportation system,” Ray says. “We want to continue to invest back into our ports and things that support stable work environments for good-paying jobs.”

Ray wants to take some of the tax revenue from an auto tag increase and dedicate up to $150 million for ports and freight.

Jacksonville would have to share the funding with Miami and Tampa ports. And state officials would decide which cities get projects funded, much like the current funding process for professional sports stadium projects. 

If the Legislature does pass Ray’s bill, it wouldn’t affect the state budget for another three years. Ray says that implementation period serves a dual purpose: first, it could make the measure more favorable to his colleagues who are fighting for money this year, and it would give Jacksonville more time to approve the JAXPORT dredging.

Meanwhile, the competing ports of Charleston and Savannah have already secured most of their funding for similar projects but are still waiting on final word from the federal government.

“We still have time,” Ray says.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.