JTA’s multimillion-dollar autonomous vehicle project is over budget and behind deadline

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigates found the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) multimillion-dollar autonomous vehicle project is over budget and behind deadline.

It’s called the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) and is the pet project of JTA. It’s supposed to shuttle people around downtown in an autonomous vehicle and eventually retrofit the Skyway, but Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner found that behind the fancy renderings and flashy websites is a project in peril and way overbudget.


The whole autonomous vehicle project, affectionately called the U2C by JTA, has a price tag in the hundreds of millions ($379-400 million.) The first phase is called the Bay Street Innovation Corridor. Millions have already been spent on it, even though the project hasn’t broken ground yet.

So, Action News Jax dug into it to find out if taxpayers are being taken for a ride and whether lawmakers are holding JTA accountable.


The Bay Street Innovation Corridor (BSIC) is billed as the first phase of a cutting-edge project to introduce autonomous shuttles to downtown Jacksonville. But based on the accountability documents for the one of the grants paying for it, the reality is far from what’s been promised. It was originally quoted to cost $44 million.

Section 2.3

See page 4, section 2.3 in the Original Grant below:

But the 3.2-mile loop will actually cost at least $65 million dollars according to the projects most recent quarterly report.

BISC Project Budget

See the Q1 2024 report below:

That breaks down to about $20 million a mile. That bill is also supposed to be footed by a combination of local, state, and federal money, per the original contract (p.4, section 2.3, pictured above.)

But so far, that same latest quarterly report shows more than 91% of the $17 million ($17,264,293) spent is local. (See Q1 2024 report, p. 3)

FDOT confirmed $0 in state funds have been spent and the federal payments total less than half a million dollars:

BUILD grant

Meanwhile, all the project physically has to show for itself is a cleared lot for a maintenance facility that has yet to get a permit to start construction. The federal grant allocated $500,000 for that facility though the current JTA estimate is $9.4 million. See the renderings in the tweet below:

In addition, JTA missed its original February 2023 deadline to break ground, pushing it back multiple times and putting its next big deadline in jeopardy as well. The federal funding requires the project be “Substantially Completed” by September. That means JTA only has five months to make at least a portion of the project fit for its intended use. (See original grant: p.4, section 2.2)

Section 2.2


Action News Jax was denied an on-camera interview about the project’s missed deadlines and ballooning budget but did receive a leaked internal memo which is from CEO Nat Ford that shows plans for a “ceremonial” groundbreaking is scheduled for the end of this month.

BISC groundbreaking date

See the memo from Ford below:

That memo also outlines other scale-backs to the project. The most significant is the vehicle itself. Rather than the Olli or Navya shuttles that adorn the promotional material:

Olli and Navya shuttles

The autonomous vehicle will be a Ford E-Transit van with an autonomous kit that still requires a driver to be behind the wheel.

Ford E-Transit van

The JTA tried to ask for an extension from the federal government, extending the deadline on the grant to 2030.

JTA requests approval

See the letter below:

The federal government denied that request.

OST does not approve JTA's request

See the full response below:

So, as it stands, if JTA can’t complete the project and get reimbursed for everything by its financial deadlines, internal documents show local taxpayers will be left with the bill. (see original grant, p.10, section 8.3)

Outstanding BUILD grant balances

Considering how much local money is on the line, Action News Jax Investigator Emily Turner went to local leaders and stakeholders asking whether this is still a worthwhile expenditure considering the scale-backs and ballooning price tag. Instead, Action News Jax found profound silence.


Turner sent a project breakdown out to 45 stakeholders for an interview:

It was sent to Jacksonville City Council all the way up to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Only State Rep. Angie Nixon, Jacksonville; Jacksonville City Council Members Rahman Johnson, Matt Carlucci, Jimmy Peluso, and Rory Diamond agreed to do an interview.

JTA, the owner of the project, would not agree to an interview. Instead, it sent this statement:

JTA statement

But while JTA refused an interview, Action News Jax found it was happy to let others speak on its behalf, briefing them with the high points. One of those people was Nixon, who originally sat down with us in favor of the project, but after going through our research scrapped her stance, and instead sent this:

“I am disappointed by the failure of JTA to meet current deadlines and am getting a bit concerned. I have requested a meeting with the CEO to discuss where JTA is with the project. We have to ensure we are being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money; and based on all I’ve read recently, I don’t know if that’s happening. I look forward to having an open dialog and asking tough questions, so our community receives the services they need.”

But as of the story’s air date, May 6, Nixon had not received a call back for that meeting with Ford. It has been at least three weeks. Johnson was also briefed on the project ahead of our interview but stuck with his stance in favor of it.


He said, “It seems to be in jeopardy from the way it looks, but we also know that the technology just like most technology, it’s still developing. I do have a lot of confidence and faith in data. I’ve seen the plans and what it looks like. And though they have missed some of the deadlines, the fact is, it’s a piece of technology that’s allowing people to build this technology to bring it to Jacksonville.”

Johnson stopped short of saying he’d be OK with backstopping the funding if the federal and state grants fall through, but still has faith.

“The people at JTA are the experts,” he said, “But I’m certainly willing to at least give them the leeway to try to figure out how we can get to something that’s going to provide an opportunity for the city to move forward and be world-class.”

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Carlucci also supports the project. He said, “If It works, it’ll be a great success. If it doesn’t, you know, then we will have learned a lesson and every city, including Jacksonville, has some expensive lessons.”

See responses gathered from stakeholders below:

Action News Jax has already told you about the major concerns the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had with the project. FDOT asked JTA to scale it back, but the Authority refused.

The state worried about the price, scope, and viability of the project. Those concerns are echoed by Diamond, who said, “It’s a boondoggle,” and Peluso, who said, “This project is, frankly, a nightmare.”

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They sit on opposite sides of the aisle and politically, agree on very little, but the Ultimate Urban Circulator is an exception.

“This is basically the second iteration of the Skyway,” Peluso said, “and I’m really concerned it will be the end of mass transit in our city. Mass transit is all about moving a lot of people from one place to another, creating commercial corridors, creating new development, prospects. This is not going to do that in the slightest.”

Diamond agreed, saying, “This is another ride to nowhere. I think we should cut our losses while we can.”

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