An almost $10 million state Regional Transportation Management Center should open Downtown by next year this time.
The structure will combine existing functions now operating in two other locations and will upgrade the technology used by the Florida Department of Transportation. It also will house the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization.
The upgraded technology will allow the center to monitor Northeast Florida roadways and traffic flow in Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties and beyond for current situations and create opportunities to ease traffic flow and assist economic development.
“We are the quarterback of roadway events,” said Peter Vega, transportation systems management and operations engineering for the department’s District 2, which covers Northeast Florida.
Plans for the proposed 25,204-square-foot Florida Department of Transportation Regional Transportation Management Center are under city review.
The center, planned in the state office complex at Jefferson and State streets Downtown, comprises 20,000 square feet for the transportation management center and another 5,000 square feet for the planning organization, which now operates on the Southbank.
Site plans show the building would be developed on 6.85 acres of the 35.3-acre site between Children’s Medical Services and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“It will enhance agencies working together under one roof to help with traffic management,” said department District 2 spokesman Ron Tittle.
The center functions now are housed at the District 2 Jacksonville Urban Office at 2198 Edison Ave. in West Jacksonville and at the Florida Highway Patrol Jacksonville Regional Communications Center at Jefferson and State streets, near the site of the new facility.
The Jacksonville Urban Office is part of the department’s District 2 out of Lake City. The district oversees transportation planning, design, traffic operations, construction and roadway maintenance in 18 counties in North Florida.
Vega said it will cost about $9.1 million to build and another $500,000 for interior work and furnishings. He said the center will include 32 consoles and 20-foot-long workstations, “basically designed to improve the efficiency of the operations.”
Construction should start in 30-60 days and be completed in July 2015.
The North Florida TPO is funding the construction cost. Vega said the furnishings will be funded by the department.
Florida’s Regional Transportation Management Centers are the nerve centers for disseminating information to the traveling public, according to dot.state.fl.us.
Vega said the new center will be staffed by the 14-person operations staff, four traffic signal personnel and about 20 FHP personnel.
“When we have an event, we pick up the phone and call each agency, which takes 15 minutes to respond,” Vega said. “Once we get a new building, it will be group working together, so we will reduce the coordination response to a minute or two.”
England-Thims & Miller Inc. is the project civil engineer. Plans were prepared for Clemons, Rutherford and Associates Inc. architects and planners of Tallahassee. The owner and developer is the Florida Department of Transportation.
Vega said the center tracks roadway speeds throughout the district.
“We have eyes on these roads at all times, 24/7,” he said.
It also manages the area My Florida 511 service, which provides up-to-the-minute road information on its website, fl511.com, and provides personalized services to registrants to alert them to travel information.
The center also tracks data through the WAZE traffic and navigation app.
“We get the info, we investigate and then we get the message to the public through signs or through the 511 system,” he said.
In the event of a road incident, the center’s group contacts law enforcement, fire and rescue and maintenance personnel to respond with the proper equipment. It notifies the public through local media. It tracks the incidents from notification until the road is cleared and traffic flow returns to normal.
The office tracks incidents in the District 2 region from Interstate 10 west to Jefferson County; I-95 from the southern end of Alachua County north to Georgia; and the entire interstate system on the east coast north of Flagler County. It also provides some support for arterial roadways in the area.
If the event is large, such as a fire or tanker spill or multi-vehicle accident, the center will notify other department districts to alert them to traffic incidents, “so that folks heading toward us will have 2-3 hours advance notice.”
The transportation department has taken a leadership role in the deployment of Intelligent Transportation System infrastructures throughout the state, including the regional transportation management centers in major metropolitan areas.
The center plans for high-tech solutions to traffic problems and to monitor roadways, as well as for economic development.
Vega said closed-circuit TV cameras will be used from Nassau County south to Clay County and traffic flow will be monitored through wireless Bluetooth technology. That way, dynamic message signs can let drivers know about incidents or a need to detour.
Vega said the center eventually will use Bluetooth technology to determine the area communities that are large traffic producers, which will allow the TPO to pinpoint roadways that will need capacity or operational improvements, such as widening or more signalization. Those studies now are done for short periods, he said.
The Bluetooth technology also will work in partnerships with other cities and states, such as Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey and Louisiana, to track freight moving into Jacksonville and its ports.
The technology can track whether freight is heading west on I-10, north on I-95 or splitting up I-75 to the Midwest. That information can be helpful for economic developers.
Then there are the connected and autonomous vehicles.
The center’s technology can communicate traffic data with wireless connected vehicles to help improve traffic signaling, emergency response and other information.
Such real-time traffic information can ease traffic flow. For example, if the technology shows that a heavy volume of traffic is headed in a specific direction on a road, the signalization can be adjusted to manage it.
Vega said auto manufacturers are ready, as a whole, to start introducing the connected vehicle technology.
Autonomous cars are those that take control of driving and also will depend on wireless communication.
The North Florida TPO is the independent regional transportation planning agency for Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties. Federal statutes require urbanized areas with 50,000 or more people to have a Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Jeff Sheffield, executive director of the North Florida TPO, said he expects to move in to the new center in August or September 2015.
The state’s Regional Transportation Management Center will not be part of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center planned by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority near the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
As that project sought funding, the state decided to proceed on its center. Vega said the state center will share information with the JTA Dispatch operations.
The JTA envisions a regional multimodal hub to manage transit operations throughout Northeast Florida and to serve as the central connecting point for JTA’s current and planned transit services.