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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Skyway Ridership Boost Fuels Calls To Reform Jax Mass Transit

David T.

Jacksonville's mass transit system was among the city features given a boost by the 2014 One Spark festival earlier this month, with Skyway ridership showing a 104 percent over the same time last year.The success has renewed questions of viability of increased commuter rail service on the First Coast.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford and immediate past JTA board chair Ed Burr spoke with Melissa Ross about restructuring the city’s transit system.

“All great urban cities have great mass transit systems, so it’s important we keep our mass transit system going,” said Burr.

However with every gain comes pain; the Jacksonville City Council remains at odds over extending the city's six-cent gas tax, which is used to fund transportation projects.

“One of our key funding sources of mass transit is the local option gas tax,” said Burr.

Burr feels that supporting this tax is critical for further enhancement.

City Council President Bill Gulliford, sponsor of legislation to renew the gas tax for another 20 years, met with city lawmakers on Monday to review a draft list compiled with JTA of 31 infrastructure projects totaling $253 million.

If the gas tax is extended, it would allow the agency to budget $100 million for infrastructure development, enough to fund the 15 most important projects on that list.

The reconstruction of road lanes from Kernan Blvd. to Atlantic Blvd. is the most expensive project at $16.7 million. A $600,000 project at the Old St. Augustine Rd. and Greenland Rd. intersection is also a top priority.

“The challenge that we have in our community is really understanding,” said Ford. “Getting citizens to understand the importance of public transportation and what it brings as far as economic development and accessibility to jobs, accessibility to the doctor, loved ones."

According to Ford, this November JTA will solidify the current system by restructuring all Skyway routes to be faster and more direct, something that hasn’t been done in more than 30 years.

“We have a lot of initiatives under way that will build the case and support for commuter rail in the future,” said Ford.

Ford said the agency will submit an application for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant for the reconstruction project this month.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Scott Harrison @Sharrison983.