Video: Hart Bridge Ramp Demolition Project Named In Watchdog’s ‘Budget Turkey’ Report

Apr 5, 2018

The Hart Bridge ramp project, which Mayor Lenny Curry has been pursuing money for since 2016, was among 56 transportation projects worth $119 million in this year’s budget that were flagged as “turkeys” by Florida TaxWatch.

Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog, highlighted $12.5 million in state money to help the city demolish the elevated road connecting the Hart Bridge to downtown in its annual roundup of “budget turkeys,” a list of eyebrow-raising expenditures in the state’s budget.

Our Florida Times-Union news partner reports the group says the “turkey” label isn’t a judgment on a project’s worthiness. Instead, it identifies a project tacked to the state’s budget without being fully scrutinized or subjected to typical review processes.

The Hart Bridge ramp project, which Mayor Lenny Curry has been pursuing money for since 2016, was among 56 transportation projects worth $119 million in this year’s budget that were flagged as “turkeys” by Florida TaxWatch.

Plans to demolish the downtown Hart Bridge overpass system have been labeled a "turkey" by Florida Tax Watch.
Credit Bill Bortzfield / WJCT News

The projects flagged in the report all leapfrogged the state Department of Transportation’s typical selection process and were added to the budget at the request of individual legislators during this spring’s budget session, a months-long period of haggling between lawmakers, lobbyists and other special interests.

The report said projects added by individual legislators take money away from the projects that were vetted and selected by the state. It recommended legislators stop earmarking individual projects and instead create a process to evaluate which ones have the highest return on investment.

“It’s about the transparency of the process,” said Leah Courtney, a Florida TaxWatch spokeswoman. “When they skip the transparency of the process ... it diminishes the public’s voice over what goes into the budget.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, sponsored the funding request for the project. He initially secured $300,000 for the project early in the budget session, although the final budget included $12.5 million.

Mayor Lenny Curry has provided different reasons for tearing down the elevated ramp since he proposed the idea in 2016, from public safety to modernizing public roads. City and state officials now say the project, which will tear down the elevated road and build a new access ramp to the bridge near the intersection of Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard, is needed to improve truck access to JaxPort’s Talleyrand Terminal.

Removing the elevated expressway is also a key part of Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s plan to build a waterfront development near EverBank Field: Renderings of the ambitious project depict a radically transformed Metropolitan Park that is free of the sky-blocking concrete of the ramp.

Economic development is a less prominent part of the official talking points surrounding the project. Curry has refused to say whether Khan has asked the city to take down the elevated ramp.

You can read a longer version of this story on Jacksonville.com that includes more financial details and additional reasoning for removing the overpass.