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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, May. 17, 201712:00 PM EST

Removal of Hart ramp leads city road priorities

Group developing Shipyards wants it gone
by: David Cawton Staff Writer

Removal of the Hart Bridge ramp Downtown leads City Council’s list of road project priorities.

Taking down the Northbank ramp also happens to be a key component of Shad Khan’s plan to redevelop the Shipyards property.

Through Ordinance 2017-368, council has introduced its list of road project priorities for the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization.

The list represents the city’s top requests for federal and state transportation funding during the next year’s budget cycle.

Removing a stretch of elevated expressway extending into Downtown from the Hart Bridge is at the top.

The project would remove the current expressway ramp, grading it down onto Gator Bowl Boulevard from the Hart Bridge to A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.

On April 18, the Downtown Investment Authority approved Khan and his Iguana Investments of Florida group to redevelop the 70-acre riverfront site from Metropolitan Park to the former Shipyards site.

The first phase of the more than $500 million project would develop the area of Metro Park, across the street from EverBank Field.

The road has been blamed for traffic jams during large events.

In November, Mayor Lenny Curry informally asked the Duval Legislative Delegation for the state to provide $50 million to remove the ramp, citing safety and development concerns.

No money for the project was put in this year’s budget now awaiting Scott’s signature.

Curry called the overpass an “aging relic” last year.

Khan’s proposal also shows another section of the expressway that feeds traffic in and out of the urban core, west of A. Philip Randolph Boulevard, transformed into a pedestrian bridge.

That part of the project is currently part of larger negotiations between the city and Khan’s development group.

Because the Hart Bridge is part of a state road, the city would need to secure funds from state lawmakers in next year’s budget negotiations.

Florida Sen. Audrey Gibson, whose district includes Downtown, said she was surprised when Curry made his request.

She said she has some initial hesitation about removing the overpass, citing concerns for pedestrians along Gator Bowl Boulevard.

“It seems a little counterproductive,” she said. “Why would you want to increase vehicle traffic, especially when it looks like there’s going to be a lot of people walking around?”

Gibson sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development, which typically is the first to review proposed transportation projects.

The Florida Department of Transportation is studying the proposal.

Spokesman Ron Tittle said that study, at a cost of $250,000, is part of the FDOT General Planning Consultant’s “ongoing directive to help communities develop and prepare project information for potential submission to the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization’s list of priority projects.

“They examine projects and identify respective priorities, while FDOT assists in the process,” he said.

Tittle said the team conducting the study is working with city staff to evaluate the mayor’s concerns like traffic conditions, benefits, impacts and costs.

The Shipyards development is in the early stages of negotiations with the DIA.

No term sheet or development agreement is expected for at least a few months.

In an email, Jaguars President Mark Lamping, vice president of Iguana Investments, said the development group supports the city’s effort to remove the overpass.

“Many cities across the U.S. have seen the positive impact removal of barriers such as this had on their revitalization efforts,” he said.

Lamping said that from a development perspective, “we believe its removal will significantly improve the quality of the Shipyards development and its impact on Downtown Jacksonville.”

Other projects on the council’s priority list include intersection redesign of Southside Boulevard at Baymeadows Road and adding more bike lanes and pedestrian improvements for several areas to connect the Core to Coast system of trails.

The North Florida TPO coordinates transportation construction and improvement projects for federal funding purposes for the four-county Northeast Florida region, comprising Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

The council ordinance will be reviewed by the Transportation Energy & Utilities Committee and the Rules Committee before heading for a full council vote.

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