INVESTIGATES: Concerns over JTA’s Bay Street Innovation Corridor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax is uncovering more major concerns with a multimillion-dollar project that’s supposed to bring autonomous vehicles to downtown Jacksonville. It’s called the Bay Street Innovation Corridor and is set to cost more than $65 million dollars.

It broke ground Wednesday with a lot of fanfare, but Investigator Emily Turner has already exposed major concerns about how it is overbudget and way behind schedule.


Now, she’s also uncovered serious safety concerns that, records show, have yet to be addressed. Action News Jax pulled emails from the former city engineer who was the point person for this project. Those emails say, among other things, “the city should not allow these vehicles on any road, much less downtown, ever.”

Yet Wednesday, with the support of the Jax Chamber’s Daniel Davis, Jacksonville City Council President Ron Salem, and Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan, the JTA broke ground on the project.

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The internal emails are between the city’s former Chief of Engineering and Construction and the project’s point person with JTA. In them, we uncovered not one, but three different concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles on city streets.

When it comes to the route, specifically the U-turn in front of the soon-to-be Four Seasons on Bay Street, the engineer said, “this is dangerous, and should not be allowed,” but as far as the latest route shows, that’s still the plan.

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The emails also show serious concerns for the safety of the project overall, based on JTA’s own language. JTA said it needs a significant amount of this equipment mounted on the city’s traffic signals on Bay Street to “provide for the safe operations of the AVs.”

That equipment gives the vehicles priority at traffic lights, but JTA’s own agreement, submitted to the city, said if that’s not working “it presents an immediate risk to public safety.”

That’s one of the reasons why the city engineer sent an email to city stakeholders, saying, “that statement alone should be enough to stop the whole project.”

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He goes on to say the agreement is also a bad deal for the city because the city would have to pay for the power the project uses, do “maintenance on the behalf of JTA” and “ask permission from them before fixing (their) own equipment,” not to mention that “JTA is going to blame (the city) if anything goes wrong.”

The engineer said “not a single paragraph is intended to protect the city, or the public” and that “the city should not allow these vehicles on any road, much less downtown, ever. " Action News Jax found that, to date, this safety-critical, essential element of the project is not in place yet. The city told me they told me they’re still working on it.

So far, Action News Jax reporting has uncovered that this project is way over budget, way behind schedule, not living up to what was promised, and there have already been major concerns from the state and now, the city.

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