More than a dozen people attended the Florida Department of Transportation’s open house in Riverside Thursday evening to voice concerns about the proposed removal of the Hart Bridge ramps into downtown and expansion of Gator Bowl Boulevard in front of TIAA Bank Field.
The City of Jacksonville plans to tear down a 3/4-mile section of the elevated ramps near the sports complex and replace it with a single, wider ground-level road off and onto the Hart Bridge.
Meeting-goers got to look at what’s planned and talk with DOT engineers about the $39 million dollar project.
Undine McEvoy, who lives in Springfield, said she’s worried about what knocking down the Hart Bridge ramps would mean for her daily commute into Arlington.
“When this all comes down, all that traffic, those people that are using [the Hart Bridge] - are going to be rerouted onto [the] MLK [Parkway], heading South over the Hart Bridge,” she said. “So that’s a problem.”
Jacksonville Director of Public Works John Pappas said he understands people’s concerns about traffic congestion. But the changes will provide more direct access to the city’s growing downtown, he said.
“What we’re doing is, when we drop it down, we’re designing this to where we could time the signals and the flow to match the peak flow,” he said. “Our goal is to mimic as much as possible the path in and the path out.”
Once the Hart Bridge ramps are knocked down, the city plans to widen Bay Street and Gator Bowl Avenue, add sidewalks and bike lanes, and build a new ramp at A. Philip Randolph Boulevard west of the stadium.
Pappas said his team has conducted traffic analysis and found the changes will add about a minute to some people’s commute in and out of that corner of downtown.
David Bruderly, a retired engineer, said the Hart Bridge elevated ramps could be an important evacuation route during hurricanes and other emergencies.
“This is well above the flood line. So by taking this down, you make it difficult to use the Hart Bridge as part of your evacuation route for downtown,” he said.
In addition to those concerns, some open house attendees also said tearing down the overpass isn’t the best use of city funds.
“Downtown is coming together and it seems like a waste of time and a lot of money to be focusing on this Lot J,” McEvoy asked. “It seems like the focus should be on the downtown core.”
Lot J, currently a parking lot next to TIAA Bank Field, is eyed by Jacksonville Jaguars Shad Khan as an area to potentially develop a retail and entertainment complex, along with areas of Metropolitan Park across the street — a major project that could benefit from the increase in street-level traffic the ramps’ removal would bring.
The city will have to cover about third of the estimated $37.5 million demolition and road construction cost, on top of $1.5 million for design. FDOT is covering $12.5 million, and a federal grant would take care of the other third.
Even so, Bruderly echoed McEvoy’s sentiments.
“I am against destroying a perfectly good, elevated roadway that during rush hour allows to get into the downtown,” he said. “It’s a perfectly good structure.”
But Pappas said the 53-year-old overpass needs a facelift, as downtown grows further east towards Metropolitan Park and the sports complex.
“It’s infrastructure that has served its purpose and it’s not part of the future,” he said.
Bid applications for the project will open next week, with the hope of selecting a contractor by the fall, said Pappas. Construction is slated to start early next year.
FDOT, which is responsible for highways, bridges and elevated roadways in Florida, will continue collecting public comments at nflroads.com/Talleyrand.