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“… the Jacksonville Transportation Authority appears to be quietly going out of the construction business.”

August 8, 2011

Thank you, Katie Smith, for coming across this interesting little article about our dear sweet JTA:

“After years of building the Dames Point bridge, the Beach Boulevard Intracoastal bridge and many other projects, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority appears to be quietly going out of the construction business.

When JTA finishes widening Heckscher Drive in a few months, it will have no other ongoing road projects and no money to pay for any new ones.

The construction industry is concerned that a loss of JTA projects will cause a loss of jobs. Members of Jacksonville City Council appear split on whether it’s a cause for concern. And JTA isn’t talking about it.

“JTA is working on different scenarios and those options will be presented to the [JTA] board in September,” spokeswoman Shannon Eller said.

Better Jacksonville money, some of which went to JTA for road projects, has run dry. Duval County voters approved a 2003 sales tax increase to fund $2.2 billion worth of transportation and construction projects.

The JTA also receives about $25 million to $30 million a year from the local gas tax, which expires in 2016. But the authority now spends most of this money to cover its huge annual losses of operating the bus system and the Skyway.

Last year, JTA Executive Director Michael Blaylock floated the idea of renewing the existing 6-cent gas tax and adding an extra 5 cents per gallon. The City Council strongly criticized it and the idea was dropped.

Blaylock has said he still hopes to renew the existing gas tax, but JTA hasn’t asked the council to do it, and a few months ago Blaylock said he was waiting for the right time to move forward.

Councilman Warren Jones said he’d like to see the gas tax renewed soon.

“Mr. Blaylock has told me that he has $100 million worth of construction he could put out for bid right now,” Jones said. “He just doesn’t have the money.”

Planned JTA projects that lack funding include an extension of 44th Street from Golfair Boulevard to Gateway Mall, improvements at the intersection of Atlantic and Southside boulevards, Atlantic and University boulevards, and Butler Boulevard at Interstate 95.

Councilman Bill Bishop said this is a good time to rethink how road construction is done. It might be better for everyone if the city took over and let JTA focus on running the buses, he said.

“I’m not upset at all that the JTA is running out of money,” Bishop said. “I think a lot of people will tell you that the JTA is not an agency that responds well to the public.”

The city could be more responsive to the needs of the community, he said, because council members could directly advocate for projects and be required to answer to voters, something the JTA board does not do.

The future of JTA construction is being watched closely in the construction industry, said Pete Kelley, vice president of Superior Construction.

“It’s always a concern when funding for construction drops,” Kelley said.

The construction industry might consider getting involved, he said, and urge the City Council to extend the gas tax.

Florida Transportation Builders Association President Bob Burleson said he hoped the City Council extends the gas tax soon. Paying the extra, he argued, will cost drivers less than the damage to their cars with outdated and poorly built roads.

And his businesses, he said, will be in financial limbo.

‘The construction industry needs cost certainty for companies to hire,’ Burleson said, “and right now there’s no certainty in Jacksonville.’ ”

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