Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Could Rail Be Next for Duval? Planning Agency Needs Public Input on How the City Should Evolve Now

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Could Rail Be Next for Duval? Planning Agency Needs Public Input on How the City Should Evolve Now

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

The possibility of Jacksonville having commuter rail or a streetcar sounds like something out of science fiction for many residents.

But officials with the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization are asking local residents to consider these possibilities and think about how they would like to see transportation evolve over the next 25 years.

The agency is having six open-house meetings in the next two weeks asking residents to opine on how the city's transportation infrastructure should evolve. Road projects will be discussed, but officials say the most important discussions will focus on getting people off the roads and onto some form of public transportation.

The Times-Union spoke with Transportation Planning Organization Executive Director Denise Bunnewith, spokeswoman Marci Larson and consultant project manager Wiatt Bowers about what they hoped to accomplish with these meetings.

WHY SHOULD PEOPLE COME TO THE MEETINGS?

With a large population increase expected over the next 20 years, roads will have to be widened. But some uncertainty exists over which roads those will be.

For example, to deal with congestion north of Jacksonville, Interstate 95 could be widened to eight lanes, or Main Street could be widened to six.

Only one of these projects needs to happen, and it would be helpful to the Transportation Planning Organization to find out which one residents prefer.

At some point widening roads will not be enough. The planning organization is considering a commuter rail network, a streetcar system that will involve installing tracks, extending the Skyway, a water ferry and bus rapid transit that would involve bus-only lanes.

At the moment it does not know which of these options residents like the best. If lots of people come out and indicate a preference for one option, the agency will look more seriously at the feasibility of it.

REALISTICALLY, HOW MANY OF THESE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS COULD HAPPEN?

Transportation officials say at least one needs to happen and believe that commuter rail and streetcars are probably the most realistic. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is already moving ahead with bus rapid transit and plans to discuss the feasibility of commuter rail at its Aug. …

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