Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Awaits Firm's Study on Transit Planning for Light Rail Expected to Move Ahead

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Awaits Firm's Study on Transit Planning for Light Rail Expected to Move Ahead

Article excerpt

Jacksonville's light rail aspirations could get new direction

this month, when the Jacksonville Transportation Authority gets

a consulting company's report on the merits of potential transit

corridors.

Any mention of rail transit was noticeably absent from the

projects in a $98 million bond issue the agency approved

Thursday. However, JTA Executive Director Miles Francis said

that was because state law allows the bonds to be issued only

for road, bridge and bus system projects. The package did

include money for park-and-ride lots and a bus transfer station.

Francis said he expects the JTA and city will look to buy right

of way for rail lines. "That would be my recommendation," he

said.

But Francis doesn't expect construction of a rail system to

start anytime soon.

The city's scattered population and low bus ridership will hurt

any request for federal funds that many people consider key to

the city pursuing light rail. Francis said recommendations from

the Growth Management Task Force, including a gas tax hike that

would earmark money for transit, shows the community is

gradually developing support for light rail.

The Growth Management Task Force completed its recommendations

Thursday and will present them formally to Mayor John Delaney

and the City Council on March 14.

TRYING TO MAKE THEIR MOVE: No one wants to call it a threat,

but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it might move to

Jacksonville Naval Air Station if Mayor Delaney insists on

blocking the corps' planned partnership with the University of

North Florida.

Delaney is worried about 650 corps jobs leaving the fragile

downtown economy. It's made him reluctant to bless the corps'

plan to take its operations from cramped quarters at the Charles

Bennett Federal Building to new digs at the suburban college.

Delaney's support is required under an executive order meant to

preserve urban areas. But the corps doesn't need his consent if

it simply goes from one federal property to another, in this

case the naval base.

Corps officials met with Delaney yesterday to try to win his

support. Jim Seta, corps project manager, said the agency is

concerned about its image.

"It was coming across like we were the big bad guy," he said.

No one will argue that the corps needs more room, and the

federal government says it isn't going to renovate the downtown

building anytime soon. …

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