Article by: Jordan Ferrell

For full story visit: WTLV

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The desire and intent to redevelop the LaVilla neighborhood became tangible several months ago as the new affordable housing project between West Bay and Water Street began to go vertical.

This week, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority echoed that sentiment with a groundbreaking on the $57 million Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center that aims to connect virtually all modes of transportation that are currently available in the Northeast Florida region.

“This facility will serve both the local community and the region and will bring about the connectivity Jacksonville needs to revitalize LaVilla and Downtown,” JTA Board of Directors Chairman Isaiah Rumlin said.

Phase I of the JRTC project will consist of a 10,000 square-foot intercity bus terminal, which is currently under construction near the Convention Center Skyway Station. The intercity terminal will have a total of nine bus bays and parking areas for use by intercity carriers, such as the new JTA Flyer, as well as interstate Greyhound lines.

The terminal will also house ticket offices, a cafeteria, and public restrooms. A bike sharing system is also said to be included in the buildout. The first phase of this project is slated to be operational by January 2018, according to JTA.

“The JTA will be connected to this facility along with Megabus, Skyway, soon to be the U2C, and last mile options such as Uber and Lyft will also be able to serve this facility,” JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford said. “And one day in the future, all of us will have the opportunity to see those driverless cars which will also be part of this development.”

Phase II of the project will call for the construction of a 40,000 square-foot administration building which will house JTA’s administrative offices, as well as conference and board rooms. The Skyway, or U2C, will be integrated into the building’s framework.

The building will also feature a bus transfer facility with an enclosed passenger waiting area, an operator lounge and ticket vending machines. The facility will be ADA accessible, according to Ford, and will have a canopy-covered continuous platform connecting each bus bay.

Ford said during the groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday that JTA expects the JRTC to be a “bustling station” that will service over 12,000 riders daily and continue to increase in years to come.

“We see this as a future catalyst to LaVilla becoming the live, work and play activity hub on this side of town, and because of its location, I’m working very closely with Aundra Wallace,” said Ford. “We will be building a defining neighborhood, one that we can all be very proud of in the future.”

Ford also dropped a subtle hint that this massive undertaking was not only meant to vastly improve Jacksonville’s struggling commuter rail, but also improve access to the regional rail with the relocation of the Amtrak station currently on the city’s Northside.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of us, but we are already planning on Phase III, which is the relocation of Amtrak from its current location right to the other side of this building here, the Prime Osbourne, back to its original planned facility and location in this area,” Ford said.

Both phases of the JRTC project will be Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified, according to JTA. The globally-recognized green certification is awarded to projects that utilize material and building supplies that reduce the impact on the electrical grid, as well as lower carbon emissions.

A combination of federal, state and local funding, totaling no more than an estimated $57.3 million, will be used to complete the JRTC project. JTA estimates that everything should be built out by no later than November 2019.

“This hub will be an observable testament to what can be accomplished when local, state and federal agencies work together, come together for the common cause of serving our constituents,” said U.S. Representative John Rutherford during the ceremony.

Perhaps overshadowed by some of the speakers on the lineup at the ceremony was State Senator Audrey Gibson, who is the sponsor of the bill that created the Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Commission back in 2013.

Gibson spoke briefly on the benefits of regionalization and congratulated Ford for “picking up the mantle” of something she believes will be beneficial to a neglected neighborhood and encompassing district.

“Regionalizing in my opinion, and as part of your vision I’m sure, diversifies not only our economy but it offers more diversity in how people connect to each other,” Gibson said. “And that is extremely critical.”

Jacksonville City Council Vice President John Crescimbeni was one of the last to speak at the ceremony.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Crescimbeni said, summing up the overall importance of this transportation hub to the City of Jacksonville. In his 17 years of serving on city council, he said projects like this have been discussed but never executed.

“Most major cities like Jacksonville have long had facilities like this where various modes of transportation interconnect,” Crescimbeni said. “…So, I commend Mr. Ford and JTA staff and the board for bringing this vision finally to fruition.”