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Major Jacksonville Construction Project Debrief 

Major Jacksonville Construction Project Debrief 

 It was expected to open Wednesday, but that was pushed back until Thursday morning. Last week Governor Rick Scott announced the soon-to-open I-95 Southbound flyover ramp to Butler Blvd. The 1,400-foot ramp was first announced by Governor Scott in November 2013. This is easing congestion on I-95 Southbound exiting off at Butler because drivers heading Eastbound will no longer have to stop at the cycling light at JTB. Instead, they’ll use the direct access two lane road.   Bianca Speights, FDOT PIO, says “We expect for this to alleviate a lot of congestion and improve the safety through the area as well.” The delay comes for unexpected problems as crews removed the striping. Bianca Speights tells us contractors laid new striping and opened it on Thursday morning.  The opening of the flyover ramp from I-95 Southbound is the first phase of the project. Next construction crews will open the second phase by placing Butler Blvd Westbound lanes into their final configuration.  As construction continues through the area, Speights adds, “This is still an active construction zone and be aware that there are workers there still.” Express Lanes of the I-295 Beltway between the Buckman Bridge and Butler You’ve driven through the construction zone on the I-295 W Beltway between the Buckman Bridge and I-95 for the better part of a year and a half. Drivers have felt the pain of a disabled vehicle blocking a lane due to a lack of shoulders while roadwork continues. Orange Park and Mandarin drivers should soon sigh a bit of relief on their daily commutes.  The 5.7 mile stretch on the I-295 W Beltway from the Buckman Bridge to I-95 is on schedule and expected for completion early 2018. Two twelve-foot toll lanes on either side will open giving drivers choice in their commute.   Currently, average speeds during peak times average less than 10 mph. Once the Express Lanes open, FDOT is expected speeds to average 20mph during peak times on the current roads and no less than 45 mph on the express lanes.  Drivers will need to purchase a prepaid Sunpass card that the cost of use will automatically be deducted from their account as they pass through in order to use the express lanes, The prices for lanes are dynamic, meaning they fluctuate. The slower the normal lanes are, the more expensive the express lanes and vice versa.   An important factor for drivers to consider before using the lanes; they are straight through, meaning once you enter them at the start of the Buckman Bridge you will need to stay on them through I-95. No exiting available onto San Jose or Old St Augustine Rd. This also means if there is a crash blocking a lane ahead, drivers will not be able to hop on to the express lanes after the entrance for them later when it is convenient to do so.   FDOT is aware that drivers use the express lanes to save time. Should there be an incident causing lane restrictions in those lanes, Hampton Ray Public Information Officer for FDOT says, “We’ll make sure the price is not applied to your Sunpass account.”  Ray further commented on the impact these lanes will have to drivers, “We think these will be a great addition to the roadway and give drivers more of a choice with their commute.” Express Lanes on the I-295 E Beltway between 9B and Butler Blvd This project is designed to ease congestion for drivers along the I-295 E Beltway in the same manner the express lanes along the I-295 W Beltway will. These lanes are scheduled for completion in Spring of 2018.  As with the I-295 W Beltway Express Lanes, they are through lanes meaning that drivers will need to stay on them between 9B and Butler Blvd. Northbound drivers will have an option of using a direct flyover at Butler Blvd where they can exit Eastbound or Westbound or stay along the I-295 E Beltway Northbound. On the I-295 E Beltway Southbound, drivers will get onto the express lanes before Butler Blvd, closer to Town Center Pkwy. As with the I-295 West Beltway, Hampton Ray says that once the lanes open up so will the shoulders along the I-295 E Beltway. This will allow for stalled vehicles and crashes to clear lanes of travel much faster.   Ray noted that through the construction time, FDOT patrols the area with Road Rangers to assist any stalled vehicles with gas or flat tires. This is a free service offered to all drivers traveling through the impacted roads.  Future express lane projects, including I-95 at Atlantic and I-95 at International Golf Pkwy, are in the study phases and construction is not expected to begin on those until 2020.  95 Overland Bridge Project In 2013 the Florida Department of Transportation began the Overland Bridge Project to improve the flow of traffic on I-95 Northbound and Southbound through the Downtown area of Jacksonville Florida. The project encompasses a 2.3 mile stretch.   As it stands now, drivers can exit off I-95 Nothbound onto the Downtown exits at the Main Street or Acosta Bridge. Upon completion, that will change. Drivers will need to make a decision at Emerson to continue or I-95 NB lanes through Downtown or take the lanes heading into Downtown Jacksonville. FDOT Spokesperson Ron Tittle says FDOT will post signs leading up to it informing drivers, but for those who do take the 95 side, if they need to get into Downtown they will have to turn around after Downtown and come back through.   Ron Tittle says, “We are still looking at late fall type of timeframe to have the project completed.” In regards to the Northbound lanes of I-95.  FDOT will also ease congestion for those leaving the Downtown area on the Southbound side by adding an additional lane of travel.  First Coast Expressway The First Coast Expressway is designed to ease congestion along the I-295 W Beltway and Orange Park and I-10. The first segment of the $77-million-dollar project is on time and scheduled for completion in spring 2018.  The lanes, when opened, will become toll roads. There are similarities between the First Coast Expressway and the express lanes opening on the I-295 Beltway. Drivers will be able to use their SunPass for both roads, but First Coast Expressway drivers will have an option to use ‘Toll by Plate’. However, those who use it will be charged an additional $2.50 administration fee. Hampton Ray, Public Information Officer at FDOT, urges drivers to save money by using a SunPass Instead.   Commuters taking State Road 23 but not wishing to use the express lanes will have the option of exiting at New Wold Avenue to avoid the toll. Challenger and Discovery Rd will also be a viable option to those wishing to avoid the toll fees.  The larger project will eventually connect SR-23 to the Shands Bridge, replacing the Shands Bridge, and then over to I-95. This will allow St Johns commuters to use the First Coast Expressway rather than I-95 Northbound up to I-10.    Reconstruction of the Shands Bridge has been funded and expects to start in 2019. The third phase, which connects the Shands Bridge to I-95, has not been funded as of yet.   Upon completion, the First Coast Expressway will give drivers a 46 mile stretch of road of non-stop 70 mph travel. 

Hurricane Maria: Live updates

Hurricane Maria: Live updates

Hurricane Maria is bearing down on the Caribbean and is set to pass over much the same area devastated by Hurricane Irma nearly two weeks ago. >> Read more trending news 

Mexicans displaced by deadly quake seek refuge from fear

Mexicans displaced by deadly quake seek refuge from fear

On rubber mats spread across a Mexico City recreation center, the Montero family cuddles under donated wool blankets, their first new possessions after abandoning their apartment following the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Across the capital thousands of Mexicans are now believed homeless after the tremor leveled entire buildings and left others teetering on the edge of collapse. Men, women and children are now filling up gyms and event halls at more than two dozen designated shelters. Many are uncertain where they will go next, but grateful to have a safe refuge. 'I am sure nothing is going to fall here,' 7-year-old Oscar Montero says. The Montero family lived on the first floor of a seven-story apartment building that on Tuesday became perilously sandwiched between neighboring towers on each side that have begun caving in. No one in the family of five was home during the quake. Oscar and his two older siblings were all at school, his parents at work. Claudia Antonio, Oscar's mother, entered the home quickly the quake after to salvage her children's birth certificates and vaccination records. Other neighbors pulled out valuables like fridges and microwaves. In the first night after the tremor, some slept outside with the items they had pulled from the wobbly buildings. The Montero family decided they would go to the Junior Club recreation center. 'Material things come and go,' Antonio, 38, said. 'What I value most is our lives.' The Junior Club is typically a place where children come to swim in the lap pool and adults spin on gym bikes. In the days since the quake it has become one of countless makeshift 'homes of refuge,' receiving piles of donated bottled water, baby diapers and toys. On a second floor dozens of the newly displaced camp out on sleeping mats and share their stories. Teams of volunteer workers visit with each family to determine their needs. Aside from material needs, Dr. Alfredo Reyes, who was helping out nearby at the site of a flattened six-story building, said many of the survivors are likely to struggle emotionally. A nervous fear lingers in residents, sparked by any sign that buildings which once seemed unmovable might now collapse at the slightest provocation. At one plaza where rescue workers gathered to organize supplies Tuesday night, panic spread swiftly after people shouted that they'd seen a damaged building start to sway. 'I'm scared!' a young woman cried, her voice trembling 'They've lost loved ones, their homes,' Reyes said, adding that the quake also bring up old traumas from prior quakes, like the one that hit Mexico City on the same day in 1985 and left thousands dead. Oscar Montero, a boy with deep brown eyes whose playful energy sends him bouncing through the halls of the shelter, said the initial tremor didn't scare him. He comforted the frightened children at his school. But he is afraid to go home. 'What if there's a quake again and things break?' he asks. 'Here it won't.

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New GOP health care plan faces questions over how it deals with pre-existing conditions

As Republicans try to push ahead with a new plan to overhaul the Obama health law, one flash point has erupted on how the GOP effort would impact people with pre-existing health conditions, as backers and opponents have come to much different conclusions on that important policy matter.

The issue of how people with pre-existing conditions are treated has been a controversial one throughout this year’s legislative push by the GOP to coalesce behind a plan that would repeal and replace the Obama health law, as supporters of the law argue it’s one of the most popular aspects of the existing [More]