Reconnecting communities

President Biden’s recently approved Infrastructure bill includes a $1 billion grant program aimed at the Department of Transportation to help communities identify and remove or retrofit highway infrastructure that was intentionally designed to divide communities. Home to some of the earliest expressways in Florida, Jacksonville was is a city that was at the forefront of using highway infrastructure to destroy urban core communities during the 1950s and 60s. With that in mind, here are five expressways that aren’t on the interstate highway system, that are overdue for a retrofit to improve mobility, safety and economic opportunity in the neighborhoods they penetrate.

1. Union Street Expressway (1952-1953)

Stretching from the intersection of State, Union and Liberty Streets to the Mathews Bridge, the Union Street / Mathews Bridge Expressway is Jacksonville’s oldest expressway. Built before the establishment of the Jacksonville Expressway Authority its path was selected along a line that served as the border between then white and African American neighborhoods in the Eastside. When the bridge opened in 1953, the first three thousand people attending the celebration received a free barbecue lunch. Downtown stores also promoted the bridge opening as a sales promotion to bring people to downtown. What was not recognized was the hundreds of Eastside property owners that lost their homes to eminent domain. This act also created the constrained culvert over Hogans Creek, contributing to the frequent flooding of the tidal waterway. Furthermore, since the construction of this expressway, literally everything south of it has been razed and replaced with surface parking lots and parking garages in what is now called the Sports and Entertainment District. Considering plans for the Emerald Trail, restoration of Hogans Creek and strong redevelopment interest in the Historic Eastside and Sports & Entertainment District, reimaging this short expressway is a no brainer.

2. Roosevelt Expressway (1960)

Known by most as Roosevelt Boulevard or U.S. 17, the Roosevelt Expressway was completed in 1960 as a spur of Interstate 10. Partially built to freeway standards, it was designed as a part of the expressway system to connect Downtown Jacksonville with then rapidly growing Westside. It’s construction upgraded U.S. 17 into a limited-access highway north of Blanding Boulevard. Unlike Interstate 95 and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway, it was largely constructed paralleling railroad tracks on the edge of Avondale, protecting that community from the decimation that took out Sugar Hill, it’s segregation era counterpart. Despite the Jacksonville Expressway Authority being influenced to select this alignment for the highway, it still severs connectivity between the Riverside Avondale Historic District and the adjacent neighborhoods of Murray Hill and Lackwanna.