Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN
Mayor John Peyton's proposed revamping of the Better Jacksonville Plan would nearly triple the amount of local funding for construction of elevated ramps at the busy junction of Butler Boulevard and Interstate 95.
Peyton's recommendation comes after years of appeals for traffic relief by property owners in Southpoint, a collection of multi-story office buildings that are a suburban version of downtown, housing businesses with thousands of jobs.
Those workers fight through traffic on their commutes. An average of 82,000 vehicles a day traveled Butler Boulevard at I-95 in 2004, a 31 percent increase since 1999, according to state Department of Transportation traffic counts.
Motorists have gained some time-savings from the recent widening of Butler to six lanes between Gate Parkway and Belfort Road. But from Belfort Road to I-95, traffic goes from cruising to bruising. Butler narrows back to four lanes, and motorists weave to different lanes while getting on and off I-95.
The Better Jacksonville Plan contains $20 million for the interchange at Butler and I-95. Peyton would bump that amount to $55 million.
In a related project, the Better Jacksonville Plan earmarked $18 million for a new interchange -- the technical word for overpass or elevated ramps -- at Butler Boulevard and Philips Highway. Peyton would increase that to $22 million.
Peyton also would seek another $70 million from the state Department of Transportation for the interchanges on Butler at I-95 and Philips Highway. If the city succeeded at getting DOT financing, that stretch of Butler would become the Better Jacksonville Plan's most expensive road project.
This week, Peyton plans to give the City Council his proposed changes to the Better Jacksonville Plan, including the cancellation of some overpasses. The $2.25 billion plan, which voters approved in 2000 with a half-cent sales tax increase, contains $1.5 billion in transportation spending. But the latest estimates forecast a $690 million shortfall.
City Council President Kevin Hyde said that because of the budget situation, any proposal to increase funding for a particular project will get a close review by the council.
"I think the approach I'll take -- it's not rocket science -- is to look at the most critical needs in the transportation system, and that's definitely one of them," Hyde said of Butler Boulevard at I-95. …