by David Chapman
The legislatively created Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Study Commission embarked Wednesday on its two-year journey to explore the framework of a regional transportation authority for the seven-county region.
The 20-person commission consists of representatives from Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties and is staffed by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. It met at the World Golf Village.
Commission members were briefed on the context for developing the study and identified major issues that would both aid and deter such an authority, among other activities during the initial meeting.
The issue of regionalism was explained to the group by Rob Palmer, Reality Check First Coast co-chair and Urban Land Institute North Florida chair.
Palmer discussed the economic competitiveness among regions and infrastructure needs as key reasons why the idea is being explored. The federal government advocates and supplies funds for regional projects.
“Jurisdictions can’t go it alone,” said Palmer, referring to infrastructure needs and costs.
Commission members, as part of their first exercise, were asked to give both “headwinds” and “tradewinds” in developing and implementing such a regional transportation plan in Northeast Florida.
The overall economy was the most commonly cited deterrent, with some commission members listing environmental regulations, lack of voter recognition of regionalism, public apathy, the different infrastructure needs of the individual counties and “turfism” as other obstacles.
On the positive side, commission members discussed the willingness of regional representatives to embark on the study, the availability of local land, the idea of job creation and economic development and changing attitudes toward transportation as supportive of a regional effort.
“There was a lot of great participation,” said Brad Thoburn, project director, about the first meeting.
“There’s a lot of knowledge and willingness to share those ideas ... I do think we know any changes are going to be regional and we have to learn to deal with them in a regional manner,” he said.
The commission was created following a similar JTA study that was completed in February with the recommendation that more time and effort was needed to look into the issue. That study will be used as a resource.
“It didn’t make a lot of sense to go forward,” said Thoburn, referring to the JTA study.
Plans call for at least 11 more meetings, with the goal of having an all-day session once every other month or so in a different location throughout the seven-county area.
By Dec. 31, 2012, the commission will present the governor, Senate president and House speaker a report of its findings that will include legislative recommendations, a transportation elements plan, the authority’s characteristics and an implementation plan.
Organizational materials were introduced to the group and will be explained in greater detail during the next meeting in January.