JTA provides community updates on automated shuttle system

Design of the first phase of the Ultimate Urban Circulator includes a 3-mile route with 14 shuttles and 12 stops.

  • By Ric Anderson
  • | 12:14 p.m. May 13, 2024
  • | 4 Free Articles Remaining!
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority held a community meeting about its Ultimate Urban Connector project at the Jacksonville Main Library on May 13. The project is an eventual replacement for the Downtown Skyway.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority held a community meeting about its Ultimate Urban Connector project at the Jacksonville Main Library on May 13. The project is an eventual replacement for the Downtown Skyway.
Photo by Ric Anderson
  • Government
  • Share

Blocks from the construction site of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s Autonomous Innovation Center, the JTA held events May 13 to update the community on its Ultimate Urban Circulator project.

The U2C is envisioned as a network of autonomous shuttles that will operate Downtown and eventually connect to Riverside, Springfield and San Marco, plus to JTA bus terminals that provide regional mobility. It would  eventually replace the Downtown Skyway monorail system.

JTA staff and contractors in the project were on hand at the Main Library for the community events, which offered an overview of the U2C and provided stations where participants could ask questions about the system’s design, vehicles and other technology.

A video presentation at the community meetings said the initial phase of the project, which will operate on and around Bay Street, will provide 14 shuttles on a 3-mile route with 12 stops. Plans call for the shuttles to run every seven minutes.

The shuttles will be fitted with radar and lidar systems, static closed-circuit TV cameras and other technology that will interconnect with an array of sensors providing input on pedestrian and traffic movement, weather and other conditions. 

A night view of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s proposed Ultimate Urban Circulator building in LaVilla as seen from Water Street.

Included in the Bay Street plan are 39 pedestrian sensors, plus high-tech traffic lights that include motion sensors. Nat Ford, CEO of the JTA, said onboard safety attendants would be stationed on the shuttles for the first nine months to one year of operations. 

Ford said JTA designed the system with a philosophy of “measure three times, cut once,” working with various jurisdictional authorities – the Florida Department of Transportation, the Downtown Investment Authority and JEA among them – to map out the system in a way aimed at minimizing changes after it is built.

Cost of the Bay Street phase is estimated at $66.5 million, including $9 million for the Autonomous Innovation Center. Two successive phases will involve adapting the Skyway elevated monorail into the U2C and expanding the system, pushing the estimated cost to as much as $400 million for a full build-out. 

Construction has begun on the Autonomous Innovation Center, which will be the nerve center of the system, with a ceremonial groundbreaking scheduled for May 29. 

The JTA Ultimate Urban Circulator project would replace the Jacksonville Skyway.

The center in LaVilla along East Bay Street will include a rooftop solar microgrid that will supply power to recharge the shuttles, an education center for conversations about automated vehicle technology and electric vehicle charging stations that will be available to the public. 

The community sessions included a station focusing on design of the central control system, which will be the connection point for the streams of information flowing from the vehicles and sensors. Greer Johnson Gillis, a JTA senior vice president and chief infrastructure and development officer, said the system would allow operators to monitor for potential hazards and remotely control the shuttles accordingly.

The AV Platforms Navya is one of the vehicles being tested for the Ultimate Urban Circulator Skyway replacement.

Jordan Dowdy, a representative of the autonomous vehicle solutions company Beep Inc., said the system is being designed to be “vehicle agnostic,” meaning it will be able to interface with new AV technology as the field evolves. Beep has contracted with JTA to develop the system.

Gillis said the timeline calls for the Bay Street system to begin operations in June 2025. 

The U2C has drawn criticism that it is overly expensive, relies on unproven technology and pulls funding away from other solutions that would more pragmatic. Among the critics is Council member Jimmy Peluso, whose District 7 includes the Bay Street corridor. 

The estimated cost of the first phase has risen since January 2022, when JTA signed a $49 million contract with a consortium headed by Balfour Beatty LLC for the first phase of the project.



Special Offer: $5 for 2 Months!

Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning business news.