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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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  • Tilli Buchanan and her husband were sweaty and itchy after spending the day installing insulation in their Utah garage, so they stripped off their long-sleeved shirts to cool down, according to her attorneys. More than a year later -- though that timeline is in some dispute -- Buchanan, 27, of West Valley City, finds herself in court, fighting lewdness charges filed against her in February because her young stepchildren saw her topless. If convicted of the three Class A misdemeanor charges against her, Buchanan could serve jail time and be forced to register as a sex offender for the next decade, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Her husband, who was also shirtless, has not been charged with a crime. “If we are to lose this, she’s on the sex registry with child rapists and things of that nature,” her attorney, Randy Richards, told reporters. “The magnitude of the penalty on this is enormous.” Buchanan, who is also being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, was in court for a hearing on Tuesday, at which time her attorneys argued that Utah’s lewdness act is unconstitutional because it treats men and women differently. “What’s important to look at, to see, when you look at the statute, is there’s part of it that says this part of a woman is found inherently obscene and this part of a man isn’t,” ACLU attorney Leah Farrell told reporters after the hearing. “And that really sets up an unequal, unfair dichotomy.” District Judge Kara Pettit declined to rule from the bench, saying “it’s too important of an issue” for an immediate judgment, the Deseret News reported. Pettit said she would hand down a decision sometime within the next two months. According to Utah’s law against lewdness involving a child, a person can be convicted if he or she exposes his or her genitals, buttocks, anus or pubic area, or the female breast “below the top of the areola,” in front of a child. The law applies if the person does this in public or “in a private place under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor or the child.” Farrell said that standard is unfair to women because they have to do “mental calculus” to determine if going topless will cause alarm, while that same burden is not placed on men, the News reported. West Valley Deputy City Attorney Corey Sherwin, who is prosecuting Buchanan’s case, told the newspaper that Utah laws do not target women, but said nudity is understood to not only include “lower parts of the body” but also the female breast. He said the lewdness statute applies only to those who intentionally expose themselves around children. In court paperwork obtained by the Tribune, Sherwin argued that Buchanan stripped down in front of the children, boys ages 13 and 9 and a 10-year-old girl, after stating that, if her husband could go shirtless, she should be able to, as well. The documents alleged Buchanan, who Sherwin claimed was “under the influence of alcohol,” later told her husband she would only put her shirt back on if he showed her his penis, the Tribune said. The incident took place in late 2017 or early 2018, according to prosecutors. Buchanan said, however, that it may have taken place as early as the fall of 2016. >> Read more trending news  The Tribune reported that authorities became involved earlier this year during a Division of Child and Family Services investigation that did not involve Buchanan. The incident came to light during that unrelated probe and the children’s mother called police, saying she was alarmed by what had happened in front of the kids. Buchanan’s recollection of the incident differs greatly from the claims made by prosecutors. She said that, when the children came downstairs to find her without a shirt, she used the moment as a teaching experience for her stepchildren. She said she pointed out to the children that they were not made uncomfortable by their father’s bare chest. “This isn’t a sexual thing,” she recalled telling the children, according to the Tribune. “I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about this.” Listen to Tilli Buchanan speak following her court hearing below, courtesy of KSL in Salt Lake City. Richards argued earlier this year that Buchanan should not face charges for being shirtless in her own home while her husband escapes punishment or condemnation for the same behavior. “The fact that this was in the privacy of one’s own home is real troubling,” Richards told the Tribune in September. “Different people have different moral positions as far as nudity.” Richards’ argument has been based largely on a February opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit Court, which upheld a lower court ruling that a Fort Collins, Colorado, ordinance banning women from going topless violated their 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law. Fox13 in Salt Lake City reported in September that the court narrowed its ruling in the case, Free the Nipple Fort Collins v. City of Fort Collins, to address solely the Fort Collins ordinance. West Valley City prosecutors cited that narrow scope during arguments in Buchanan’s case, arguing that the “Free the Nipple” ruling is more narrow than the ACLU might like. Read the court ruling in full below. Free the Nipple v Fort Collins by National Content Desk on Scribd The ruling, which made headlines nationwide, is slowly making its mark on other Utah cases, however. FOX 13 reported that attorneys with clients facing lewdness charges have begun citing the appeals court ruling in their own arguments. Buchanan said she was devastated by the criminal charges filed against her. “The moment I took to teach the kids, it was kind of smashed,” she told the Tribune. “Like you can’t teach kids this. In fact, you’re going to be charged for even bringing this up.” After Tuesday’s hearing, Buchanan told reporters she is hopeful at least a portion of the state’s lewdness law will be struck down. “Especially given it was in the privacy of my own home, my husband was right next to me, in the exact same manner that I was, and he’s not being prosecuted for it,” Buchanan said.

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