Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Memo Raises Questions about JTA Spending; City Hall Auditors Say JTA Violated Better Jacksonville Agreement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Memo Raises Questions about JTA Spending; City Hall Auditors Say JTA Violated Better Jacksonville Agreement

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

City Hall auditors say the Jacksonville Transportation Authority used about $50 million in Better Jacksonville funds for projects that weren't part of the voter-approved plan and won't release the money for those JTA projects.

In response, JTA says it has done nothing wrong and is waiting for the city to reimburse about $35.6 million in Better Jacksonville money that has been spent in the last two months.

The City Council is being asked to look into the matter and determine if JTA is violating the Better Jacksonville agreement.

Better Jacksonville road projects are split between the city and JTA, and under an agreement both must approve any changes to the plan's road project schedule. JTA works on state-owned roads; the city works on roads it owns.

JTA has $50 million that was supposed to be used for countywide intersection improvements. Some of that money ended up in projects that could not be classified as "intersection improvements," Assistant Council Auditor Janice Billy said in a memo to the council this week.

The largest of those projects was an $8.5 million realignment of Soutel Drive between Pritchard Road and the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks. This was not an approved Better Jacksonville project, Billy said.

JTA also didn't do its projects in the order they were ranked. For example, the overpass at Kernan Boulevard over Beach Boulevard was built before the new interchange ramps at Butler Boulevard and Interstate 95, even though the Butler project was ranked higher.

"It's our job to point out that JTA doesn't appear to be doing what it's supposed to do," Billy said. "But it will be up to City Council to decide if JTA should get paid."

On Thursday, JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock said JTA was never required to do the projects in the order they are ranked. He denied wrongdoing, and said that no Better Jacksonville projects had been delayed, which the council auditor didn't address.

He said he was disturbed by Billy's memo and plans a response in the next few days.

"We've been doing our projects the same way for nine years and no one has complained about it until now," Blaylock said. …

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