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U.S. Transportation Secretary Presents Jacksonville With $25 Million Grant

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was at City Hall on Friday to formally present a $25 million federal grant Jacksonville was awarded in December.

Jacksonville will use the money to begin adding a fleet of autonomous vehicles as the city replaces its Skyway monorail cars and to tear down the Hart Bridge ramps that are next to Metropolitan Park and the sports complex.

Secretary Chao said the grant might just be the beginning. “We want to partner with you to help you achieve even more of your goals,” she said. “So we look forward to working with you, as you embark on this innovative revitalization of the Jacksonville downtown.”

The multimillion award was part of the Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BOLD) initiative. Jacksonville’s proposal, which it submitted last July, was selected as one of 91 out of 851 applications from all 50 states.

Related: Jacksonville, JTA Awarded $25 million for Innovation Corridor Projects

Chao was joined by city officials and JTA officials, as well as both of Jacksonville’s congressional representatives.

Mayor Lenny Curry said it's all about relationships. “We put together a business plan, we make the case for these grants and then we go and we work and we get to know each other and spend time together in Tallahassee and in Washington and this is the result,” he said.

The city is using $12.5 million to knock down the Hart Bridge ramps, add pedestrian and bike friendly features, widen Bay Street and Gator Bowl Avenue, and construct a new ramp at A. Philip Randolph Blvd.

Curry said the project should get underway by the summer.

Democratic North Florida Congressman Al Lawson said he and fellow Republican Representative John Rutherford worked to bring home the grant money 

"We let them understand the importance of where Jacksonville can be a model, not only for surrounding counties but throughout the state and throughout the country,” said he said. 

The other $12.5 million will go to JTA to implement the first phase of the Ultimate Urban Circulator (C2U) program, a fleet of autonomous vehicles that will run on ground at level along Bay St. The corridor will incorporate smart technology, pedestrian sensors, smart sensors that can given flood warnings, and an integrated data exchange, according JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford.

“These build grant awards will enhance downtown access, improve traffic conditions and safety, and bolster innovation through our downtown footprint” he said.

Eventually, the vehicles will replace the monorail cars  on the existing 2.5 mile Skyway. Ford said JTA has plans of expanding that system to 10 miles, with the autonomous vehicles running at ground level in the expanded areas.

Abukar Adan is a former WJCT reporter who left the station for other pursuits in August 2019.