A flooded street reveals some of Jacksonville’s infrastructure needs.
President Joe Biden finally signed his hard-fought $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday, November 15. As a result, approximately $19 billion in federal investment is headed to Florida. That tally includes $13.1 billion for roads and $245 million for bridges over the next five years, with a focus on mitigating climate change, resilience, bike and pedestrian infrastructure and equity. Another $2.6 billion is earmarked for the state’s public transit needs, and at least $100 million will go to improving the broadband network and extending it to underserved areas and families. Florida will also be able to apply for additional funding for bridges and major projects that spark economic growth. According to Biden, the bill is “a once-in-a-generation investment that’s going to create millions of jobs modernizing our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our broadband, a whole range of things – to turn the climate crisis into an opportunity.”
The infrastructure bill puts considerable emphasis on equity, meaning it seeks to reverse past trends of using infrastructure to separate and disadvantage minority communities, as happened in various parts of Jacksonville and other cities during the 20th century. It also emphasizes something Jacksonville has embraced as a major goal: mitigating the effects of climate change. As a result, the city is well positioned to launch projects that take advantage of the incoming federal dollars.
Unfortunately, there’s been distressingly little talk from leaders at the City of Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and others on specific projects and asks to be made. Should Jacksonville get on the ball, however, the city has a golden opportunity to build upon the investment and achieve a number of long-term goals. Here are five projects Jacksonville could and should be pursuing.
Structurally deficient bridges
Jacksonville is home to several bridges that have been rated as structurally deficient, including the Ray Green Bridge on Lem Turner Road over the Trout River, Main Street over the Broward River, Lane Avenue over Wills Branch and Interstate 95 over the Nassau River. The infrastructure bill offers the greatest chance in decades for the River City to repair or replace its myriad aging bridges.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act represents the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Based on formula funding alone, Florida expects to receive $245 million for bridge replacement and repairs, in addition to the $13.1 billion for federal highways. The state can also apply for additional funding through the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program, dedicated to bridges that bring economic impact to their communities, and the $16 billion dedicated to complex projects.
Nearly 20% of the nation’s highways and major roads are in poor condition, as are 45,000 bridges, according to the White House. Jacksonville is home to several bridges that have been rated as structurally deficient, including the Ray Green Bridge on Lem Turner Road over the Trout River, Main Street over the Broward River, Lane Avenue over Wills Branch and Interstate 95 over the Nassau River. The infrastructure bill offers the greatest chance in decades for the River City to repair or replace its myriad aging bridges.
Amtrak Florida Corridor Service
The former Jacksonville Terminal passenger rail station in downtown. The infrastructure bill presents Jacksonville with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring passenger rail back to the urban core. (Ennis Davis, AICP)
The White House said the infrastructure bill represents the largest investment in public transit ever, and the largest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak was created in 1971. As The Jaxson has written about before, Jacksonville is scheduled to be a major beneficiary of the Amtrak expansion. The Jacksonville-Tampa line will get two new daily round trips, doubling the number of trains serving Jacksonville.
As we’ve argued previously, Jacksonville has an opportunity here to achieve a long-held goal: returning passenger rail Downtown. For 30 years, plans have called for Amtrak service to eventually return to the Prime Osborn Convention Center in LaVilla. Originally the Jacksonville Union Terminal, the building served as the city’s train station until 1974, when passenger rail was moved to a much smaller “Amshack” station in a Northwest Jacksonville industrial area. A return to Downtown would not only allow for easy connections to other transit options at the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center, it could also spark badly needed development in nearby blocks.
Additionally, the Amtrak expansion gives Jacksonville the opportunity to prepare for future commuter rail. The Jacksonville-Tampa line passes through Clay County, which has the state’s third worst traffic congestion and where JTA already owns a sizable park-and-ride hub along the tracks. In addition to moving Amtrak back Downtown, JTA should work with Amtrak to add a new Clay County stop, which could then additionally serve a future commuter rail system.