The board of the Jacksonville Transit Authority voted unanimously Thursday supporting a 6-cent increase to the city’s gas tax. If passed by the City Council, the tax would be used to fund up to $930 million in transportation improvements throughout the`city.
Many of the items on the city’s list are roadway and sidewalk improvements and drainage system fixes. One big-ticket item is expanding Jacksonville’s Skyway from 2.5 miles to 10 miles and preparing it for autonomous vehicles.
JTA CEO Nat Ford suggested a rebrand for the elevated people-mover that has long been the butt of jokes. “Unfortunately, I think the history of the Skyway is getting in the way of the future of mobility. So I’d like to mark today as the day we start to retire the name ‘Skyway’ and look at exercising and using the phrase U2C: Ultimate Urban Circulator.”
The proposed expansion to the elevated train would connect it to the Riverside neighborhood’s popular Riverside Arts Market, as well as the UF Health Center, the VA outpatient clinic and San Marco.
Another major item on the list is $3.3 million to study a commuter rail connecting Jacksonville to St. Johns County.
Commuter rail service between the two counties could help alleviate traffic congestion, which is expected to worsen as the region’s population grows. Fewer cars on the road would also mean less fossil fuel emissions, which would help lower the region’s carbon footprint.
“We know that there is going to be significant growth in Northeast Florida,” Ford said. “And we know a large percentage of commuters travel I-95 from the south of Northeast Florida to Jacksonville where the jobs are concentrated. Commuter rail is an option worth studying at this time.”
Jacksonville already has a 6-cent gas tax on the books, which was approved in 2014. Since going into effect in 2016, funding from that tax has paid for the completion of a passthrough lane in St. Augustine, a transit hub across from the Northside’s Legend Center and sidewalks along Kernan Road, according to JTA.
This new gas tax hike, which Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has dubbed the “Jobs for Jax” plan, would make Duval County the 32nd of 67 counties in Florida to charge the maximum allowable 12 cents under the local option gas tax.
Curry said if it’s approved, the plan could lead to the creation of “thousands of jobs.”
Ford said he’s still in talks with city council members to earn support for the plan before legislation is introduced. City Council president Tommy Hazouri and Council member Matt Carlucci, who is running for mayor in 2023, support the plan. Council member Al Ferraro, also running for mayor, opposes it, according to The Florida Times-Union.
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