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- 2014 - February - 21st -
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Ed Burr

JTA wants gas tax to fund $100M in projects

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

Letting the 6-cent gas tax expire would result in a “devastating impact on transit,” according to the former chair of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority board.

Not just roads, board member Ed Burr says, but the transit system itself.

That means paratransit riders, those who need free or reduced fares and the people who use the services out of necessity, not choice.

With JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford sitting next to him, Burr helped frame a gas-tax discussion Thursday to several City Council members who met on the topic. Ford also has said the tax is needed.

Council President Bill Gulliford has filed legislation to extend the tax another 20 years and rework the funding structure. Currently, JTA receives the entire amount, about $28 million annually.

Under Gulliford’s proposal, JTA would receive 5 cents per gallon to bond out for road projects and improvements. The city would take the other cent, with 80 percent of that for street maintenance and the other 20 percent used as a dedicated funding source for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Burr said if the extension were to pass, the authority would be able to bond about $100 million for projects.

The authority presented Gulliford and council members Warren Jones, Lori Boyer and Robin Lumb with a preliminary list Thursday of $170 million of projects it could work toward.

The list of 26 projects didn’t establish priorities, which could be established over the next 10 days when the city Public Works Department and authority meet.

All council districts are represented and some of those put forth include Tinseltown Intersections improvements ($26 million), and improvements to the Atlantic Intracoastal West area ($24.5 million) and Blanding Boulevard ($19 million).

More projects could be added.

The city could spend its share on maintenance such as road repaving, which in the past typically had $10 million to $12 million annually dedicated.

Council put about $4 million in the fiscal 2013-14 budget for such work after Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget included no funding.

As for how the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure funds would be spent, a $36 million priority list has been submitted.

Gulliford filed the bill in December, but it has been deferred at the committee level because of the need for such priority lists.

Although the tax is two years from fading, Burr said now is the time for the conversation because interest rates and construction costs are still low, meaning the authority could possibly do more now rather than later.

Critics include Brown, who last month said he thought the debate should be delayed as new fuel technology like natural gas became more prevalent and studies are done to see how reliable the gas tax would be moving forward.

The Legislature approved the ability to tax natural gas beginning in 2019, which Gulliford told the group Thursday would offset some gas tax losses.

Jones said he was in support of extending the tax, but first wanted to ensure that promises made in the past are kept. That means drainage and infrastructure issues in the urban neighborhoods are addressed.

“It’s not just a perception,” Jones said. “They have been neglected.”

Whether such funds could go toward improving those issues will be determined in the coming weeks.

With limited revenue sources available for transportation, Lumb called the extension a “no brainer.”

Burr said, even an extension wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” to resolve the issue.

But without it, it’s the people and the system, not just the roads that will be affected.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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