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“Paving the way” for progress: In depth on proposed Hart Bridge ramp removal project
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“Paving the way” for progress: In depth on proposed Hart Bridge ramp removal project

“Paving the way” for progress: In depth on proposed Hart Bridge ramp removal project
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

“Paving the way” for progress: In depth on proposed Hart Bridge ramp removal project

Your Downtown Jacksonville drive could look much different in a few years, with the City of Jacksonville hoping that’s a key step in changing the makeup of Downtown overall. 

It was close to two years ago that the idea of taking down the Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown was first put forward by Mayor Lenny Curry. Since then, Jaguars owner Shad Khan and his development team have promoted the concept, as something that’s vital to their redevelopment efforts at the Jacksonville Shipyards and Sports Complex. 

WOKV has now obtained a copy of the City’s BUILD 2018 federal grant application, which gives new insight on exactly why the City sees this move as so valuable. We’ve also obtained a new map of the proposed project, providing insight on the change you can expect for your drive, if the funding lines up. 

via City of Jacksonville
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Hart Bridge ramps project

Photo Credit: via City of Jacksonville

Overview 

The City’s grant application puts the project’s total cost at $37,462,500. The Florida Department of Transportation has made $12.5 million available for the City, as a matching grant. Curry is proposing the City borrow its $12.5 million share- a plan that still has to be approved by the City Council. That leaves $12,462,500 in funding that still needs to be secured, and this grant is asking for that from the US Department of Transportation. 

This BUILD grant application comes after the City fell short on a previous bid for $25 million in federal funding. Since that time, they’ve been able to drop the price tag on the overall project, so that the gap is around $12.5 million instead, and still includes a contingency. 

Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes tells WOKV they expect to find out if they receive this new grant funding by the end of October. While he says they’re “optimistic” that will come through, the project is designed in phases, so that they can continue moving forward regardless. 

The grant application says the project is expected to be done and open to traffic by mid-November 2021. 

Economic impact 

Khan and his development team have made it clear in recent project proposals that taking down the Hart Expressway ramps is necessary for future development. They recently pitched a $2.5 billion vision for the Sports Complex and Shipyards area, but say removing the ramps is an important step toward achieving that. 

The BUILD grant application explains why. 

The elevated Hart Expressway lanes in Downtown were designed to quickly bring people in and out of the heart of Downtown. When this three-quarter mile stretch was built decades ago, the Shipyards was active. The expressway was designed to get people past that industrialized area, and it was elevated in order to get over gantry cranes used at the site. The express route further served as a quick and easy way people could expand to live in new suburbs, while still working in Downtown. 

While the elevated lanes served their purpose for their time, they now bypass not only the Sports Complex and Shipyards, but the neighborhoods there. Keeping people on the elevated lanes on this route- quickly going in and out of the core, with no way to stop along Bay Street- therefore means vehicle traffic and foot traffic alike are diverted from any businesses that may want to set up along the 85 acres of property that can be developed along the St. Johns River. 

“People are not only going into downtown to work and be entertained but are moving closer to the urban core. This structure has become an impediment to progress in Jacksonville,” the grant application says. 

The City says poorly placed infrastructure like this has obstructed Downtown development in recent years, with this project specifically also serving to separate the Riverfront from the property on the other side of the elevated roadway. 

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Hart Bridge ramps

“The elevated bypass expressway is a remnant of an old planning vision for infrastructure, when highways were designed to provide commuters the ability to avoid urban cores. This planning philosophy resulted in urban areas all over the country being split in half. One side saw upward mobility and the other side was literally walled off from prosperity,” the grant application says. 

The City says, in the area now, the elevated lanes only serve as a barrier. 

“The challenge today for Jacksonville is that the elevated expressway destroyed all possibility of urban renewal and investment on the eastern end of the north bank of the St. Johns River, one of the city’s best natural transportation and amenity assets. The elevated Hart Bridge Expressway creates not only a physical barrier to development, but a practical and psychological barrier as well by forcing traffic to completely bypass the former old shipyards, the Sports and Entertainment Complex, and approximately one-third of the downtown footprint,” the grant application says. 

The belief is that bringing the Hart Bridge traffic down on to Bay Street by the stadium will create more foot traffic, meaning restaurants, shops, and similar businesses would have the customer base needed to survive. 

“The city owned land continues to lack development and thus, any meaningful productivity. This project will reverse this stagnation and quite literally pave the way for a more progressive and vibrant city,” the grant application says. 

Investment in the area 

The City and Khan have partnered in recent years to push redevelopment in this area. 

They partnered to build an amphitheater- Daily’s Place- at the site of TIAA Bank Field, which hosts concerts and other events, in addition to being activated for game day experiences. That deal also included big improvements to the stadium itself, including upgraded Club Level seating. 

Khan was chosen by Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority to redevelop the vacant Shipyards site with hotels, apartments, restaurants, retail, and more. 

GALLERY: Shad Khan’s vision for the Jacksonville Shipyards

Those negotiations were recently granted an extended timeline, which could allow them to continue for a couple of years, although the Jags have said they don’t plan to wait that long to work on their next project, which is the development of Lot J. This is an existing parking lot at the stadium, which the team wants to change in to an entertainment space, while also adding hotel rooms, office space, and a parking garage. 

A potential first phase of the Shipyards development itself could be a Convention Center and hotel. While the DIA solicited bids for building those at the site of the old County Courthouse and City Hall Annex, Khan’s team put forward a competing proposal to instead have those built on the Shipyards property, as the first phase of the redevelopment. The DIA has not yet commented on the proposal. 

GALLERY:Iguana Investments’ plan for a Shipyards Convention Center/Hotel

Between Lot J, the Shipyards, and a greater vision for the Sports Complex, Khan believes the development could be worth some $2.5 billion in all. They will be seeking City partnership along the way, including with this project, saying that it is vital to their vision. 

“This $37.5 million project will fund less than one mile of transportation improvements while inducing $2.5 billion in private sector investment into the urban core of Jacksonville,” the grant application says. 

That’s far from the only redevelopment effort in Downtown as well- the Birkman Plaza II was recently sold, the Laura Street Trio is undergoing a large-scale revitalization, The District is moving forward on the Southbank, and many other smaller projects are in motion. The City believes this is a turning point for Downtown, and this project is the key to unlocking the potential. 

Project proposal 

It all leads to the question of what exactly the changes would look like. 

WOKV has obtained the most recent map of the proposed project. This is subject to change, as design efforts continue, but the City says it’s a good representation of what they’re hoping to achieve. 

The ramps from the Hart Bridge to MLK and Liberty Street on the east side of the stadium will remain intact, and traffic will flow on to those ramps to head to the bridge the same as well. The ramps that currently carry traffic to “Downtown”- or Duval and Adams streets- are the ones that would instead now go down to grade at Bay Street. A new signalized four-way intersection would be created at the intersection of Gator Bowl Blvd and Bay Street, where the road now just turns around the stadium. 

via City of Jacksonville
This is a close up of the project map, which shows bringing the Expressway lanes down to Bay Street, adding an intersection, and more.
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Hart Bridge ramps project

Photo Credit: via City of Jacksonville
This is a close up of the project map, which shows bringing the Expressway lanes down to Bay Street, adding an intersection, and more.
Stephanie Brown
This is near the area where a signalized intersection would be created with Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard. Currently, Bay Street curves in to Gator Bowl Boulevard.
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Bay Street near Gator Bowl Boulevard

Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
This is near the area where a signalized intersection would be created with Bay Street and Gator Bowl Boulevard. Currently, Bay Street curves in to Gator Bowl Boulevard.

“This will reverse the decades-long negative effects of historic federal highway planning that bifurcated the city’s most valuable land,” the grant application says. 

The capacity on Bay Street would be increased, with at least three lanes heading in each direction- instead of a total of five lanes- and some additional turn lanes. The map indicates there will be medians added to the road, although we’re told the plan is to still use reversible lanes, like the ones currently in place, where the direction of the lane can be changed, depending on the traffic flow needed for a certain event or time. 

The portion of the ramps that drop traffic off on Duval and Adams, and pick traffic up off Forsyth and Monroe, will remain standing. Around Georgia Street, which is between the stadium lots and A. Philip Randolph Blvd, drivers heading west on Bay Street would then have a choice to make. They can continue on Bay Street, in which case they will continue on the lanes in a similar manner as they are now, or they can connect back up to the existing ramps, and get dropped off closer to the Downtown core. The ramps pick back up just east of APR, near Intuition.

via City of Jacksonville
This is a close up of a portion of the Hart Expressway ramp project, which shows where the existing ramps on the west end of Bay Street would remain, and how they would connect with Bay Street.
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Hart Bridge ramps project

Photo Credit: via City of Jacksonville
This is a close up of a portion of the Hart Expressway ramp project, which shows where the existing ramps on the west end of Bay Street would remain, and how they would connect with Bay Street.
Stephanie Brown
This is approaching where Bay Street would reconnect to the existing Hart Bridge ramps on the west end of Bay Street, to carry traffic in to the core of Downtown.
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Bay Street near APR

Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
This is approaching where Bay Street would reconnect to the existing Hart Bridge ramps on the west end of Bay Street, to carry traffic in to the core of Downtown.

The City is currently not planning to remove the portion of those ramps at the western end of Bay Street, because there is no immediate push for development there- where we have the Duval County Jail, Maxwell House, and more- so the ramps are not the same obstruction that they are closer to the stadium. Traffic from west of the ramps, heading east, can either pick up at the ramps as they are now- which would carry them to Bay Street instead of the Hart Bridge- or drive down Bay Street directly. 

Safety and other features 

In addition to getting rid of an “eyesore”, this project would also improve safety, according to the grant application. They would use traffic calming measures- like raised medians and curbs- to increase bike and pedestrian usability, among other things. The project map shows several areas of new or upgraded sidewalk and some bike lanes. 

The speed limit in the area would be 35 miles per hour. The City hopes that the reduced speed- compared to the elevated lanes- along with the other proposed improvements, would make the area much safer for walking and riding a bike, in addition to driving. 

WOKV previously told you the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is seeking federal funding, with partners, to build a transportation corridor in Downtown- including Bay Street- which could include driverless shuttles. This BUILD grant applications says taking down the Hart Bridge ramps could serve to create an active corridor for pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, and ride sharing services. 

Additionally, the grant application says the Hart Bridge Expressway has “reached its useful life”. Life cycles costs are expected to drop with a newer road structure, especially one that’s planned to better meet current and future needs. 

Aside from the roadway infrastructure, the grant application also says the City would install broadband conduits, to allow future providers to better serve low-income neighborhoods in that area. Old lights would be swapped for new LED lights, which are expected to have a longer lifespan and lower maintenance costs. 

There is also consideration given to environmental concerns. The grant application says there are plans for mitigating flooding and maintaining weather resiliency overall. 

Next steps 

The Finance Committee, and then the full City Council, still need to sign on to the Mayor’s funding plan for the City’s $12.5 million contribution to this project. That final vote will take place as part of the overall City budget approval process, which will be completed before the start of the next fiscal year on October 1st. 

The Hart Bridge funding specifically is part of the City’s Capital Improvement Program, which is vetted alongside the overall $1.2 billion City budget proposal. 

WOKV continues to go in depth on the Mayor’s budget and spending plans for the City, to track how your tax dollars may be spent. Stay with us as we continue to gather more information.


The City of Jacksonville wants to take down the Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown. Stephanie Brown, News 104.5 WOKV is...

Posted by News 104.5 WOKV on Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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  • It was framed as an either-or decision: does JEA shrink in to the future, or does it grow? “We’re talking about exploring options to grow and protect JEA from what would otherwise be a slow but certain death spiral,” says JEA Board Member Alan Howard. After months of detailing relatively grim options for the future involving layoffs, rate hikes, and more, JEA’s Senior Leadership Team has now put forward details of an alternative “non-traditional” response, which would spare those consequences by removing JEA from the City of Jacksonville’s government structure. The Board of Directors voted Tuesday to move forward with exploring that “non-traditional” response- to solicit and study community or private ownership of the utility. “We did not vote today to sell JEA. I think it’s important that we say that. 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The Board ultimately voted to move forward with this option instead, saying they want to work on growing JEA in to the future, and this is the way to do it.  JEA’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Aaron Zahn says they only started delving in to these non-traditional options in the last month, after the Board said they wanted other ways to move forward. In that time, he says they have put together the general framework for different possibilities, although they have not yet fully analyzed how each would work with key metrics like customer rates and environmental stewardship. The options they laid out include a range from community control to running as a private operation to partnering with some other company, including major tech or oil and gas. As part of this exploration, JEA says there will be “minimum requirements” to any deal. That will include customer rebates, base rate stability, protections for employee compensation and retirement benefits, moving forward with a new Downtown headquarters, and more. The Board also committed to a one-time cash payment to the City of around $3 billion, in lieu of future annual contributions. Zahn says JEA does not have that kind of liquidity, and rather this would be something they anticipate any prospective future partner to come to the table with. Multiple Board members spoke about the importance of these measures, in wanting to ensure the community, customers, and employees alike are all cared for by the current service and as they look at what the future holds. There were concerns expressed at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, with several union representatives urging the Board to act with the employees in mind. “We advise our members to focus on safety and concentrate on their job, but it is extremely difficult after the last couple of Board meetings focused on solutions that were not only detrimental to our member’s livelihoods, but were completely lacking some hope at times,” says Jesse Ferraraccio, with IBEW Local 2358. Removing the government control element is vital for the future of JEA, according to the utility, because of the barriers for future growth that exist in the current dynamic. Leadership cited examples like provisions of the Florida Constitution that could preclude them from working in electric vehicles, terms of the City Charter that prevent geographic growth, public records laws that could put them at a competitive disadvantage in new developments, and more. While they projected they could have some success in changing the City Charter, they estimated a change to the Constitution to be a costly battle with a very small chance of success.  They, therefore, believe that removing themselves from the government arena is the most effective way to get rid of those existing barriers for growth. Tuesday’s vote triggers what is expected to be a roughly year-long process, during which time the Senior Leadership team will actively solicit offers and study the different non-government ownership structures they presented, as well as any they have not. They will then present those to the JEA Board, along with the “traditional response” that involves layoffs and rate hikes. The Board will vote, and if they decide to take on a restructuring, the decision would then have to pass through the City Council, and then the voters. Several Board Members questioned how confident the leadership team was about the grim projections and the need to act on them. Dykes acknowledged that there have been big events that have led to inaccurate projections in the industry before, but says they factored in more than two dozen variables in this analysis. “Is it gunna be 100% right? It’s not. But this is our best guess and our best projection of where this business is headed over the next ten years,” she says. “The true value of a projection or forecast is that it enables us to envision where we could end up in the future, while there is still time to pull the respective levers and change the course of the organization, versus getting to our destination and merely reporting back on what happened,” says Board Member Kelly Flanagan. JEA has floated privatization in the past, which ultimately led to a politically charged debate and the creation of a special City Council committee to study the matter. At the time, the idea was put out as a desire to understand the value of JEA, but leadership argues it became a debate on whether to sell, which they say is not what they had intended.  That prior “exploration” stalled out early last year, when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said that he would not put forward any privatization plan for City Council consideration. Given that, WOKV reached out to the City for a response to today’s vote by JEA’s Board, and a statement from Curry says whatever path JEA takes must have guarantees for the community. The City Council liaison, Danny Becton, says there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking. “JEA is at a crossroads. Like many companies that we see in today’s ever-changing world of technology advances and innovation, JEA is no different,” Becton says. Privatization talks in the past raised a number of concerns, including that a private company would not be eligible for the same disaster relief funding that the municipal-owned JEA gets, and that it could also lead to a dynamic where the utility is less responsive to community needs and concerns. WOKV asked Zahn if the utility is in a good position for the next year, so that they can stay financially sustainable while considering these options, and not have to make any immediate rate changes or layoffs. “It is a calculated risk that we are taking to delay action today by 6-12 months to see if the minimum requirements set forth today can come to fruition,” he says. He hopes the steps they’re taking to be deliberate in the management of JEA will prevent any fiscal crisis like he says they could face without change.

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