Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION; Keep on It

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION; Keep on It

Article excerpt

Transportation issues aren't boxed in by county lines.

People cross county lines daily for work, shopping and play.

As the region continues to grow, regional approaches to issues like transportation make sense.

What isn't clear is how to take the concept from idea to reality.

How would counties and cities be represented? Where would it get its money, and how could funds be reasonably distributed so people in either smaller or larger counties wouldn't feel cheated?

Would the benefits outpace the costs? No one knows.

BACK IN PLAY

The interest in exploring a regional transportation authority has been simmering over the last year with officials in Duval and surrounding counties.

Two regional groups, the First Coast Transportation Planning Organization (formerly the Metropolitan Planning Organization) and the Northeast Florida Regional Council, are focusing on the possibility.

In addition, representatives of those groups, the Florida Department of Transportation, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and Mayor John Peyton recently addressed it at one of three forums planned in coming months to discuss how the seven-county region will meet challenges through 2060.

The visioning effort - which includes sponsors and nearly 300 leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors - is being called "Reality Check First Coast."

The goal is to develop some concrete steps for regional approaches to jobs, recreation, housing and transportation needs.

NOT NEW IDEA

A regional transportation authority has tantalized officials for years.

So much so that, two decades ago, a governor-appointed panel explored it and produced a report touting its potential, parts of which read as if they could have been written yesterday.

Among the specifics: funding from a sales tax, gasoline taxes and tolls; and individual counties would keep at least 85 percent of the revenues in their home counties.

The idea never gained traction.

At the recent forum, Peyton said it would be a mistake for the region not to explore a regional effort now.

JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock said an authority could help the region grow efficiently.

And DOT District Secretary Charles Baldwin said a regional authority could help Northeast Florida be more competitive in landing money for transportation projects. …

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