Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hands out for Roads; Leaders Set for Feds' Funds Fight

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Hands out for Roads; Leaders Set for Feds' Funds Fight

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, Times-Union staff writer

Reality television has The Bachelorette, during which a swarm of men try to win the hand of a single woman.

The federal government has TEA-21, a massive federal transportation bill that gives communities across the nation a shot at obtaining congressional favor for pet projects.

TEA-21 is short for the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century. The current, six-year $218 billion bill expires this year, setting the stage for a new framework. The reauthorization will determine how the federal government spends its 18.3 cent a gallon tax on gasoline for the rest of the decade.

Northeast Florida officials must put their priority lists in order and submit their proposals before the end of February.

Like The Bachelorette, reality dictates that many contenders won't make the cut. Only a few will get the coveted congressional "earmarks" that guarantee funding.

In 1998, Congress used the reauthorization to earmark $45 million for projects in Jacksonville, including critical funding for construction of the Wonderwood Connector, which will link Mayport with Arlington. So far, the field is wide open and no project has rallied support the way Wonderwood did in 1998.

"My guess is that hasn't happened yet, but if it does happen, it would happen around the Mathews Bridge," mayoral aide Brad Thoburn said, referring to the proposal for widening the bridge to eight lanes.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority Executive Director Michael Blaylock added that extending Branan Field-Chaffee Road in the Westside to Interstate 10 also is a candidate "because it means so much economically for development of Cecil Field."

The First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization -- which coordinates transportation projects in Duval and northern Clay and St. Johns counties -- recently ranked adding lanes along Interstate 295 in southwest Jacksonville as the region's top priority.

St. Johns County wants federal help in building Florida 9B, a new road from Jacksonville's Southside to Race Track Road . St. Johns County also is looking for support to build an overpass for County Road 210 -- also known as Palm Valley Road -- across U. …

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