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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 26, 200612:00 PM EST

Is time right for regional transportation authority?

by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

Attorney Jim Rinaman was appointed to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority board in 1971 by then-Mayor Hans Tanzler and he spent a decade as the chair of the Mass Transit Committee. During his tenure, Rinaman was adamant about assuring the JTA looked into the future regarding mass transit. Jacksonville was growing at the time and Rinaman saw the need for JTA to match that growth.

To an extent it didn’t happen. Area transit didn’t match Jacksonville’s population growth in the 1980s and ‘90s. Consequently, new roads were practically overcrowded the day they opened. Land for mass transit (express bus lanes and light rail) hasn’t been purchased. And, plans for a regional transportation authority — one that would oversee several counties — are in the infantile stage. Rinaman firmly believes those plans need to be expedited or, like with new roads and schools, it will be too late.

“We simply need to expand JTA into five, six or seven counties,” said Rinaman. “It is especially important to do it in at least three — St. Johns, Clay and Duval.”

Currently, JTA serves only Duval County and a portion of Clay.

“In order for JTA to provide transportation service outside Duval County, we have to come up with an Interlocal Agreement like we have with Clay County to provide bus service to the Orange Park Mall,” said JTA spokesman, Mike Miller.

St. Johns will have be to addressed soon. Considering that a big percentage of St. Johns residents work in Duval County and the amount of inter-commerce between the two counties, the need for an Interlocal Agreement with St. Johns may be imminent. It’s these Interlocal Agreements that are slowly paving the way for a regional transit authority. The issue, according to Rinaman, will be who will oversee and manage that authority. JTA may be the biggest and closest transit authority, but with the exception of one Interlocal Agreement, its influence is confined to Jacksonville alone.

“I would say that JTA, as it is today, won’t exist if a regional transportation authority is formed,” said Rinaman. “It may expand and its name may change or a new authority may be formed and JTA may morph into it.”

Rinaman said he can see the day a regional transit authority mirrors the current makeup of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce which today includes Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Baker, Clay, Nassau and Flagler counties. However, the biggest sticking point to the creation of such an authority would be funding.

“The problem is, Jacksonville folks don’t want other people to use their money,” said Rinaman, explaining that a majority of all public transit funding comes from state and federal sources. Under the concept of a regional authority, the allocation of those funds could become a problem.

Rinaman said he sees the transportation problems facing Jacksonville — and the entire area — and says they need to be addressed now through the acquisition of land and the construction of car pool lanes, bus-only lanes, light rail and new roads wide enough to handle future population growth.

“Everybody knows we have to do this, but nobody is willing to do something,” said Rinaman. “Change, any change, terrifies public officials. The most pressing need right now is the land for a light rail corridor needs to be bought before it’s too late and we can’t afford it. It may already be too late.

“Also, the overpasses that were in the Better Jacksonville Plan need to be built. They were thought out and a great idea. The problem is, we are trying to take care of the business owners and we need to take care of the traffic between downtown and the beach.

“It’s easy to let the next generation of politicians take care of these things. But, that’s what’s been going on for the last 20 years.”

Miller said the prospect of forming a regional transit authority is on JTA’s plate and was

a major topic of discussion at JTA’s transportation summit in December.

“JTA is very interested in solving transportation issues on a regional level. As far as JTA being the lead agency, that would have to be decided on a larger level,” said Miller. “We will offer our expertise and staff in the planning and execution. We are road builders and we are looking at ways to link the area counties. When those talks come up, JTA will be at the table in some capacity.”

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