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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visits Jacksonville to tout ‘relationship building’ for future transit projects, bolstered by $25 million in federal funds.

Jax

‘Relationship building’ delivers Jacksonville’s mass transit ‘future’

On Friday afternoon,Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao visited Jacksonville to highlight $25 million in federal grants.

These funds represent real capital that could bring together some of the Lenny Curry administration’s biggest priority projects, including revitalizing downtown and the stadium area.

And the rollout, in the midst of a pitched re-election campaign, couldn’t be better timed for these two high-profile projects.

The Bay Street Innovation Corridor: a three-mile stretch of road downtown using autonomous vehicles and smart city technology, tying together rapid transit buses and a new multimodal transportation center. Jacksonville will get $12.5 million for this project, which is estimated to cost $62 million.

The second project: Urban Core Riverfront Revitalization and Complete Streets, also known as the removal of Hart Bridge offramps. Jacksonville will get $12,462,500 of federal money to augment $25 million of local and state money via a Department of Transportation Build Grant.

Roughly $25 million, total.

“Our city scored two federal grants that will afford us the opportunity to enhance downtown access, improve traffic conditions and safety, and bolster innovation throughout our downtown footprint. We are incredibly grateful for our partnerships with Secretary Elaine Chao and the USDOT staff, Senator Marco Rubio, Representative John Rutherford, Representative Al Lawson and JTA CEO Nat Ford and his team. They are all true champions for our City of Jacksonville,” Curry said in December, when the grants were announced.

The connections run deep. Lobbyist Marty Fiorentino, a longtime friend and associate of Chao, helped with the transition after President Donald Trump‘s 2016 victory. In her remarks, Chao lauded her longtime friendship and association with Fiorentino and his wife, local television anchor Mary Baer.

Chao lauded the “vision” and the “partnership between the state, the city, and Jacksonville Transportation Authority.”

“We on the federal level love to see a community that’s united, with a vision for the future,” Chao added

An ebullient Curry noted that “three and a half year into Jacksonville on the Rise,” the city is “bringing grant dollars home back to the taxpayers.”

“I committed to all of you over three years ago that we were going to chase your tax dollars in Tallahassee and Washington to bring them back home, and that’s what’s happening,” Curry said, thanks to a joint effort from “independent agencies” and “both sides of the aisle in Congress.”

“It’s about relationships. I’ve talked about relationships for years,” Curry added.

The next grant to watch for, Curry added, will address issues with railroad crossings.

Lawson, who endorsed Curry earlier in the day, noted that Jacksonville officials had lobbied his office often, making the case for federal advocacy.

And Rutherford lauded JTA’s Ford and Curry for the “great vision” to bring this forward.

“President Trump has made infrastructure investment a priority,” Rutherford noted, adding that Jacksonville has also scored almost $100 million for harbor deepening.

Florida Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault said the funds offered “critical support to Jacksonville’s downtown initiatives,” saying the initative capitalized on Florida’s “strong partnerships” on the federal level, and accords with Gov. Ron DeSantis “bold vision.”

Among the benefits of this money: a revamp of the Skyway and an expansion with autonomous vehicles, Ford said.

“We are demonstrating what happens when government and the private sector pulls together,” Ford added.

Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman said the funding “closed the loop on taking us from here to the future.”

The grants will allow JTA to execute the first phase of the anticipated Ultimate Urban Circulator (U²C), on Bay Street, from the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC) to the Sports Complex.

The Hart Bridge grant application notes the spend “will better utilize investments to leverage $2.5 billion of private development in and around the Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment complex and former Shipyards property,” including replacing the “outdated and obsolete elevated expressway that has served to block all prospects for redeveloping the old Shipyards and surrounding properties.”

“This project directly addresses the main impediment to development along the waterfront in this section of downtown. This project will demolish the elevated bypass, and in its place will construct a ramp from the Hart Bridge to street level on Bay Street. A second ramp will be constructed at the corner of Bay Street and A. Phillip Randolph Boulevard to go over Hogan’s Creek, a creek the City has plans to activate in the near future.”

Beyond development, the grant application pointed out the fact that the elevated expressway destroyed neighborhoods and that returning roadways to grade would help revitalize some of the most left-behind neighborhoods in the city.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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