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Jax Daily Record Friday, Apr. 9, 201012:00 PM EST

JTA finds 'no fatal flaws' in commuter rail study

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by David Chapman

Staff Writer

Advocates for Northeast Florida commuter rail heard some encouraging words Thursday about a feasibility study first presented late last year.

“There are no fatal flaws,” said James Boyle, regional transportation planner for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

Results for the JTA commuter rail feasibility study debuted in November. Boyle briefed board members of the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization about the study’s findings during its April meeting.

Boyle reported that ridership estimates are comparable to cities similar to Jacksonville; travel times would be comparable to those using automobiles; there is minimal environmental disturbance; and capital costs are also comparable.

In addition, he said feedback has been overwhelmingly positive since he’s been briefing organizations and the public on study results for the proposed 91-mile system.

The issue, as with many projects, is funding. While rail corridors exist, they would need improvement and additional safety measures. The two rail corridors are used for freight.

The option to build new tracks also is a possibility.

Costs are about $6.8 million a mile, which Boyle said beats the price to buy a four-lane arterial road. Possible funding can come from federal and state sources and public-private dollars.

Boyle said if support continues, it could be less than 10 years for people to see the large-scale transportation project take shape. North Florida TPO has adopted the program in its long-range transportation plan, though no funding allocation has been set aside.

“For us, it just really means an opportunity to plan ahead,” said Jeff Sheffield, interim North Florida TPO executive director. “It’s an opportunity.”

Boyle will continue to make the rounds across the region to promote the study’s results. For more information on the study, go to www.jtafla.com.

Other news from the meeting:

• There’s some shuffling among North Florida TPO staff. Sheffield, who was the organization’s planning director, is now the interim executive director, while Denise Bunnewith, the organization’s executive director for the past 11 years, will assume the role of planning director.

• Vice Chair and City Council member Stephen Joost informed the board in March that he intended to resign from the TPO board because of time constraints. Council member Michael Corrigan was elected the new vice chair.

• After stepping down to run a political campaign last year, Council member and former North Florida TPO Chair Art Graham was welcomed back.

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