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Brad Thoburn is the guy who plans where the buses go. The director of long-range planning and system development for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Thoburn began his career as an aide on Capitol Hill.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 20, 201612:00 PM EST

Workspace: JTA's Brad Thoburn likes being 'the policy guy, not the politics guy'

by: Carole Hawkins

Brad Thoburn crossed the street and walked under the Skyway. As he did, he talked about the elevated rail system’s engineering and how that affects plans to expand it.

Because of its age, finding replacement parts can be a challenge, he said.

For example, Jacksonville can’t replace its Skyway cars with those from Disney World’s monorail because the monorail’s are longer and can’t manage the Skyway’s tight curves.

Also, on the Skyway, the wheels sit on top of the rail. On the monorail, they guide the cars from either side.

This is the part of government Thoburn likes — being a subject matter expert. Doing the behind-the-scenes thinking that implements what politicians promise in campaign speeches.

Asked if he ever wants to run for office himself, Thoburn answered immediately: “No.”

He enjoys working with elected officials. He hates the idea of campaigning.

Thoburn is in charge of long-range planning and system development for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

Lately, it’s a busy job.

CEO Nat Ford has been driving the agency to make big changes, redesigning its bus routes, putting in new bus lines that behave like light rail and planning a regional center to connect all modes of transportation.

Thoburn’s job demands less glad-handing than that of his boss or of elected officials.

Instead, it puts him in the thick of managing the people and projects that make people want to use public transportation.

His daughters, ages 9 and 10, explain it best. “Those are dad’s buses,” they say.

Thoburn grew up in Cleveland and Jacksonville in “a very normal family” — with parents who are still married, an older brother, a couple of cats and a dog.

Both he and his brother are adopted and as a child for all he knew, that was normal too.

As a youngster, Thoburn was analytical and liked math. His father was a banker and Thoburn expected to one day work in an office building like him.

Thoburn was also fascinated by politics and remembers as a teen following a referendum on tolls in Jacksonville.

He studied politics at Washington and Lee University, but thought he would end up in law school or get an MBA.

His first job out of college focused his career elsewhere.

He campaigned for Tillie Fowler when she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. When she won, Thoburn was offered a job on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant.

Rumor has it, he was Fowler’s driver. Untrue, Thoburn said.

Fowler, like many in Congress, didn’t keep a car in D.C., and was instead shuttled by whichever aide was on hand.

“We all were drivers. It was part of the job,” Thoburn said.

Thoburn spent an intense six years researching issues that were coming up for a vote and learning how policies were made.

“In a great way, it was my grad school,” he said.

One of his responsibilities was transportation. The Federal Transportation Act, the law that guides national spending on roads, was coming up for reauthorization and Fowler sat on the House Transportation Committee.

Thoburn would work on transportation again, as staff director of growth management under Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton. And again, as planning director for the Florida Department of Transportation.

But Thoburn liked his hometown and when the JTA job came up, he came back from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

Though he built a career in the political arena, his role has always been an apolitical one.

“I’m the policy guy, not the politics guy,” he said.

It would take a politics guy to bring JTA’s ideas to life.

Ford became CEO two years after Thoburn took his job with JTA.

It was a time when JTA had a lot of plans sitting on the shelf. Ford took them off of the shelf.

A boss focused on execution, Ford set milestones and measured safety, operations and budgets.

In the most visible change so far, JTA a year ago redesigned its bus routes to be more in line with where people now live.

Thoburn’s favorite project, though, is the First Coast Flyer.

Four bus routes reaching to Jacksonville’s North, East, Southeast and Southwest edges will travel along dedicated bus lanes with traffic signal priority.

Arriving at stations every 10 minutes during peak hours, it’s a system that will get people Downtown faster.

The first route, to the north, opened last month.

“It’s important because it’s about building our transit system,” Thoburn said.

As the city expands, it will need those options.

It’s ultimately what a policy guy is for — to help people figure out how the community will grow.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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