About The Project
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is in the process of constructing a new $30.5 million interchange at Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway and 21st Street. Over 20.96 acres was acquired to develop this project that separates the neighboring Northside communities of Phoenix and Longbranch. Both are dense working class African-American communities that were developed in the early 20th Century.
The project’s contractor is Archer Western Contractors and it is anticipated that it will be completed in late 2013.
Purpose of the Project
The new interchange will allow for easier access to JAXPORT’s Talleyrand terminal and will improve safety along the MLK Parkway. Traffic will exit MLK Parkway at Phoenix Avenue and directly connect with ramps to the port via 21st Street. Traffic leaving the port will be able to travel to MLK Parkway from 21st Street.
The new interchange will include five new bridges including two over the Talleyrand Terminal Railroad, one over Phoenix Avenue and two new bridges on MLK Parkway over the ramp that connects to 21st Street. The new interchange will be built with stronger concrete pavement and bridges to reduce future maintenance needs. The project also involves drainage improvements to the area including six new ponds to collect storm water. Henry L. Brown Kooker Park adjacent to the project will be improved including adding a lighted park and sidewalk entrance.
The red circle highlights the location of the proposed interchange project. When the 20th Street Expressway (now MLK Parkway) was constructed during the 1960s, it effectively severed close knit communities from one another. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida.
Like the original construction of what was formerly known as the 20th Street Expressway, this project will enhance accessibility to JAXPORT, however it will create a pedestrian scale barrier for the adjacent urban neighborhoods. While proper thought has been given to the movement of truck and automobile traffic, little has been given towards the viability of the neighborhoods the project penetrates. 21st Street has traditionally served as Longbranch’s core commercial district and at one time rivaled the built atmosphere that continues to exist in areas like Five Points and 8th & Main today. In addition, Kooker Park, which was once a centralized public space for the surrounding community is now further isolated from the population it was designed to serve. Jacksonville owes it to these distressed communities to place a higher priority on improving their livability and economic vitality going forward.
Article by Ennis Davis