By David Cawton
Legislation introduced to City Council last week moves $1.5 million into Mayor Lenny Curry’s Capital Improvement Program to “modify” the Hart Bridge Expressway.
It’s nearly a year since Curry announced he wants to see the ramp to the bridge from Downtown taken down.
If approved, the $1.5 million would be moved from a general fund pension contingency fund to the capital projects subfund.
According to the legislative fact sheet, the money will be used for surveying, geotechnical investigations and preparation of a “design criteria package.”
The project would remove the expressway ramp, grading it down to Gator Bowl Boulevard from the Hart Bridge to A. Philip Randolph Boulevard.
The ordinance, 2017-618, states that holding the money until the 2018-19 budget year would be “detrimental” and would result “in unnecessary delay in proceeding with the project,” indicating the Legislature could approve the funds in the next state budget.
Previously, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, who represents the Hart Bridge area, said she wasn’t sold on the idea and that she needed more information before supporting it.
In November, Curry asked state lawmakers to prioritize the project for funding, calling the expressway an “aging relic.”
The bulk of the budget for removing the ramp, at an estimated cost of at least $55 million, would need to come from the state.
The project was not included in Gov. Rick Scott’s $84 billion state budget he signed in June.
Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Ron Tittle said last week the department is wrapping up a $250,000 study, which it expects to present this fall.
The department is looking at traffic concerns, benefits and the potential impact of removing the ramp.
The legislation comes after the council Finance Committee spent three weeks reviewing and amending parts of the mayor’s $1.27 billion budget, which includes a $131 million Capital Improvement Program for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The money was not previously part of the CIP.
Removing the ramp is at the top of the council’s list of priority road projects it plans to present to North Florida’s legislative delegation in November.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan also would like to see it torn down. His $500 million proposal to develop the Shipyards and Metropolitan Park properties assumes the ramp will be removed.
Khan’s Iguana Investments of Florida is in the early stages of negotiations with the DIA to develop the land.
An economic development agreement is expected to be finalized next year.