Jacksonville, FL — Just a few weeks after Jacksonville was awarded federal funding for two big transportation projects, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao came to the First Coast to give an idea of why.
WOKV reported in December that the Hart Bridge ramp removal project and Bay Street Innovation Corridor were jointly awarded $25 million from the federal BUILD grant program. For the Hart Bridge ramp project, that was the final third of funding needed, with equal parts coming from the City and State as well. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority continues to raise funds for the Corridor.
Chao says President Trump not only wants a substantial investment in infrastructure, but in projects that specifically move the country forward.
“He singled out visionary projects that leverage cutting edge technologies, as especially worth of investment,” she says.
There were 91 grants awarded of 851 applications, and Chao says Jacksonville was chosen because of high marks in not only innovation, but the impact the projects are projected to have on quality of life, safety, economic competitiveness, and environmental protections.
“These investments, I am confident, will help transform Downtown Jacksonville by bracketing the Downtown area with major improvements and smart technologies,” Chao says.
The Bay Street Innovation Corridor incorporates new technology along Bay Street, including pedestrian sensors, flood detection, autonomous vehicles, and more. It serves as a step toward the larger Ultimate Urban Circulator Program, which upgrades the existing Skyway for autonomous vehicle and expands the route to other parts of the community.
The Hart Bridge ramp removal is considered to not only be an aesthetically important project- by taking down the elevated lanes which are a visual barrier between the Sports Complex and the River- but an economically significant one as well. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who is in negotiations with the City about redeveloping the Shipyards, says ramp removal is a precursor to future development, because they cannot afford to have traffic brought over and past the area. The proposed new design would bring traffic right down to grade on Bay Street, therefore providing customers that could support future retail, restaurants, and other development.
The City hopes to have the ramp removal project done by the end of 2021.
While negotiations on the Shipyards have been long-running, the Jaguars are also partnering in an effort to redevelop Lot J by TIAA Bank Field in to a live arena, parking garage, and office building that they hope will be occupied by JEA. JEA's Board of Directors is currently weighing three proposals for a new headquarters building, with the other options being Kings Avenue Station on the Southbank and a currently empty lot on West Adams Street.
In these projects and others, Chao says they see infrastructure as the "backbone" to a good economy. She's hoping to get more funding to address a range of infrastructure needs, but WOKV's Washington Insider Jamie Dupree says there's no clear vision for where that money will come from.