The Jacksonville Transportation Authority expects to complete its First Coast Flyer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system late next year with the addition of the Orange Line.
The Orange Line will provide a direct route from the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center in LaVilla to the Orange Park Mall in Clay County, 13 miles to the southwest.
“This could not come at a more critical time in our region as economic growth and stability are once again driving factors in our expansion,” said JTA CEO Nat Ford.
The Orange Line was originally expected to begin running in February 2021, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, JTA officials said the timeline was moved back to September.
Clay County commissioners and Jacksonville City Council members joined JTA staff in a virtual groundbreaking for the Orange Line Thursday morning.
Clay Commissioner Wayne Bolla said he spent most of his career travelling between Orange Park and Jacksonville for work, commenting the bus system he was using was hard to align with his schedule.
“For the 72% of the people in Clay County who commute to Jacksonville every day, mostly at Blanding Boulevard through my district, I love this thing,” Bolla said.
The BRT system is meant for lengthier routes, but with less stops and more frequent pick-ups every 10 to 15 minutes.
Clay Commissioner Diane Hutchings said the route could provide additional business to the region.
“Bringing folks, hopefully, from Duval County to do their shopping in Clay County, it's a big boom for our mall,” Hutchings said. “It's one of our top taxpayers in the county, as far as property taxes. They provide close to 3,000 jobs for our community, so it really means a lot to us.”
Meanwhile, Jacksonville Councilman Garrett Dennis said the Orange Line will help the city’s Westside.
“Unfortunately, a lot of times the Westside is forgotten, but you all didn't forget us,” Dennis said.
The route will closely mirror the current Bus Route 5, which the Orange Line will eventually replace. It will go from the LaVilla station, down to Park St., and head south down Blanding Blvd. before circling back up when it reaches the Orange Park Mall.
The project will cost roughly $33 million, but nearly half of money is coming in the form of grants from the U.S. and Florida Departments of Transportation, and the Federal Transit Administration.
Ford said since the announcement of those grants, $38 million dollars worth of new developments have sprouted up, both residential and commercial.
“Our latest projections estimate at least $54 million in economic development that will occur in those corridors, and the addition of at least 500 jobs in the area of the Orange Line,” Ford said.
This will complete the four main lines of the BRT system, although JTA officials say there is a potential for future routes and enhancements.
In 2015, the Green Line was the first route introduced, connecting the Armsdale Park-N-Ride to the Rosa Parks Transit Station. That station had most of its operations shifted to the LaVilla station earlier this year.
The following year, the Blue Line opened, connecting Downtown to the Avenues Park-N-Ride.
The most recently opened BRT line is the 18-mile Red Line, which connects the beaches to Arlington and Downtown.
When the Orange Line is completed, JTA officials say the 57-mile mile transit system will be the largest in the Southeastern United States.
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