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Jacksonville, feds finalize funding for autonomous vehicle system

JTA to use $12.5 million to start developing autonomous “smart” vehicle transportation downtown

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the Federal Transit Administration finalized an agreement Friday that provides funding for the beginning phases of a public automatic vehicle system in the downtown area.

The accord allows JTA to begin using $12.5 million in discretionary grant funds to start the transition of the existing Skyway Express rail people mover into a public autonomous vehicle system. The JTA will begin planning and requests for proposals for contractors by the end of this year and start work on the system in 2021.

The system is being called the “Ultimate Urban Circulator” in Jacksonville’s urban core and surrounding urban neighborhoods. Much of the work will involve converting the rail for the Skyway, which rises about 25 feet above the street level on an elevated track.

“This is a significant step for the Ultimate Urban Circulator and Jacksonville,” said Nat Ford, JTA CEO. “With funding secured for phase one, we are pushing ahead with the procurement process and laying the groundwork for a fully autonomous vehicle network in downtown Jacksonville.”

The conversion of the rail system for the people mover will involve removing a concrete “track” or tongue in the middle of the raised platforms and turning the pathway into what essentially will become an elevated roadway.

The Skyway rail only covers about 2.5 miles of Jacksonville’s downtown area on the north and south banks of the St. Johns River. The autonomous vehicles will offer service for passengers on street level as well that will extend to a total of about 10 miles stretching to TIAA Bank Field stadium and into residential neighborhoods surrounding the urban core.

The cost of the entire project will run about $62 million in total by the time it’s completed within the next two years.

The control and operations systems, 12 to 15 automated vehicles, and smart technology, along with pedestrian signals and sensors, are also included in the first phase of the project.

The $12.5 million in federal funds are half of a $25 million federal grant for downtown Jacksonville transportation projects. The other half is dedicated to the demolition of the Hart Bridge expressway and offramps from the span, which is in the process of being dismantled near the stadium.

The funding agreement is the latest in high-profile JTA actions this month. On May 5, the JTA opened its new $60-million Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center in downtown that is the central transfer hub for local public buses. The center on LaVilla Center Drive also connects with the Greyhound Bus regional station and the Skyway Express.

Written By

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at drewdixonwriting@gmail.com.

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