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Talleyrand Connector money illustrates Lenny Curry’s long game

Lenny Curry is fond of tweeting: “Plan all the way to the end.”

But at the end of 2016, when the Jacksonville mayor first pitched removal of the Hart Bridge offramps, some were confused as to what that plan was.

Curry brought a poster board into the Duval delegation meeting, and said he wanted $50 million to tear the offramps to the Hart down. That was the first many members of the group had heard of the concept, which was the dramatic reveal of the pre-2017 Delegation meeting.

The Hart Expressway, said Curry to media, was a “relic of the past.”

However, there was minimal movement in the 2017 Legislative Session toward altering said relic.

The city was undaunted, and moved forward, calling a different play by October of last year.

The Mayor’s Office went to the Jacksonville City Council with an ask for $1.5 million for a design criteria study. Meanwhile, FDOT had done a study of the project that revealed a benefit to the port.

By then, the ball was rolling toward an attempt to secure a federal infrastructure grant for $25 million, and the rationale had shifted, per a letter of support from Sen. Marco Rubio to the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.

“The city’s proposal will make needed improvement to the Hart Bridge Expressway in order to relieve congestion, improve traffic flow, and enhance access to the Talleyrand Port Authority,” Rubio wrote.

Weeks after that, Curry went to D.C., where he lobbied various power players on the same project.

Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The argument, by then, had shifted: economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose.

As the 2018 Legislative Session progressed, Curry made a little-noticed (at the time) trip to Tallahassee.

Curry met with Gov. Rick Scott; the two discussed removing regulatory hurdles for downtown development.

However, there was a secondary purpose to the trip.

From the Senate, he met with Aaron Bean, Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey GibsonTravis Hutson and Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, along with Wilton Simpson.

Curry also met with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, in addition to meeting with regional representatives Travis Cummings, Jason FischerClay Yarborough, and Tracie Davis.

Soon after that, there was movement on the Talleyrand Connector issue, with Sen. Bean getting a $1 million “placeholder” into the budget.

“It will be a conference issue — rules say it has to be in either the Senate or House budget to become a conference issue.  $1M is all I was able to muster today.  It is a start and hopefully not the final number,” Bean said on February 8.

Indeed, it’s not the final number.

That final number was the $12.5 million Curry wanted from the state all along.

While it’s conceivable, in theory, that Gov. Rick Scott could veto the money, in practice that almost certainly won’t happen.

Curry has scored legislative victories in Tallahassee before; consider the pension reform referendum, widely regarded as a “heavy lift” before it was law.

His relationships, he said last week, helped him with this latest heavy lift.

Regarding Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Rep. Travis Cummings, Curry said, “without their belief in what we’re doing in this city,” Curry said, such meaningful investments as the $12.5 million in state money wouldn’t be possible.

Regardless of whether or not the federal grant happens, work can begin this year, per administration spokesperson Tia Ford.

“Regarding this project, I’ve been advised that $50 million includes a combination of local, state and federal resources to create the Talleyrand Connector as outlined two years ago and as was evaluated by FDOT last year. The removal of the bridge and first phase of the associated components can be accomplished using $25 million with additional components costing another $25 million in later phases,” Ford said.

There wasn’t a lot of initial faith in (or understanding of) the concept when pitched. But now it’s happening.

As has been the case for over 2 1/2 years, it’s hard to bet against Curry.

And the Talleyrand Connector appropriation is the latest example.

Written By

Richard Corcoran Richard Corcoran

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