Efforts were victorious to secure state budget funding to begin the process of expanding the bridge connecting mainland Nassau County to Amelia Island, with $1 million set aside for the project.
Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd asked for $1.2 million originally.
There are too many jobs and not enough affordable places to live on Amelia Island for its many workers, so the Shave Bridge is infamous for its daily bottlenecks. Nassau County Commissioner Jeff Gray remarked during a November discussion on budget requests that morning rush hour gridlock stretches as far as four miles west from the bridge.
“It’s going to take a lot of money to get another lane across in a crucial waterway,” Gray said. “But I do feel for economic certainty of Nassau County’s future, we need to look at that and we need to start moving forward with that now because it’s going to be a long, drawn-out project.”
While local officials and residents voiced what they saw as a self-evident need to add two lanes to the four-lane bridge, the process still has to begin with a feasibility study, which this $1 million would help ay for.
The study, in total, will examine widening State Road 200 from Old Nassauville Road on the west to Amelia Island Parkway on the east, with intersection improvements at SR 200/Old Nassauville Road and SR 200/Amelia Island Parkway. The Florida Department of Transportation completed a project last year that widened SR 200 from I-95 east to Old Nassauville Road.
The biggest price tag went to a project on the other side of the county. Lawmakers funded $9 million of the $18 million necessary for resurfacing the 40 miles of County Road 121, considered a significant corridor of interstate freight. The area specifically runs from U.S. 1, near the Georgia state line, to U.S. 90 in Duval County. The Legislature appropriated the first $9 million in the 2021 Legislative Session.
Meanwhile, county leaders managed to snag $1.8 million for phasing out American Beach’s well and septic system and connecting the area to the wider water and sewer system. Tensions grew the past few months between the county and local residents over who would pay for what.
“It is the Board of County Commissioners’ desire to fully fund the septic to sewer conversion and avoid placing an annual assessment on individual property owners of this small disadvantaged historic African-American coastal community that is vulnerable to storm surge,” County Manager Taco Pope wrote in an October memo.
Pope advised commissioners to look to state revolving funds instead of federal American Rescue Project Act money, which he expected would handle $9 million of the around $11 million estimated cost. The other roughly $1.85 million would come from all available non ad valorem funds.
Commissioners unanimously approved the plan in February. On Monday, commissioners agreed to accept a federal Water Infrastructure Investment for the Nation (WIIN) grant for American Beach, sending $2.3 million toward reducing property assessment rates.
“It’s actually the first (WIIN grant) the state of Florida has received from the federal EPA,” Pope said. “It’s a really big deal.”