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FDOT Officials Stated Publicly That Construction of the Second Phase of the First Coast Expressway Will Begin in Early 2019

FDOT Officials Stated Publicly That Construction of the Second Phase of the First Coast Expressway Will Begin in Early 2019

ORANGE PARK – Every afternoon, Town Manager Jim Hanson looks out from his Town Hall window to see the evergreen traffic jams on U.S. Highway 17 and Kingsley Avenue.  And the bottlenecks don’t appear to have any end in sight. So, in the last few years, the Town of Orange Park has had somewhat of an identity crisis attempting to retain its quaint, residential feel while an arterial highway divides the town in half.

With the advent of the First Coast Expressway coming closer, council members met with transportation authorities, the Clay County Economic Development Corp. and county representatives Monday to discuss how the toll road would affect the town’s traffic flow.

Clay Today - November 9, 2017 by Jesse Hollett   Read Full Article Here

“We’re just becoming a pass through destination,” said Vice-Mayor Scott Land. “So anyway we can help mitigate that perception would really help the citizens. I’ve heard the name “Orange Parking lot” used, that’s the frustration I hear about.”

However, within the first 15 minutes of the meeting, it was clear any prior animus the council expressed during past meetings about the multi-lane toll road had dissolved away when a Florida Department of Transportation representative showed a study regarding traffic within the town limits.

“There’s been no real growth in traffic in 10 years since [before] the Great Recession,” said Jim Knight, urban transportation development manager with Florida Department of Transportation. “We found that the [Expressway] doesn’t make a big difference, but it makes a small decline in the traffic in Orange Park.”

Knight said long distance trips to Palatka, for instance, would likely reroute onto the Expressway after it is completed. The leg extending from Blanding Boulevard eastward to the Shands Bridge in Green Cove Springs is also expected to reroute some of the traffic generated on Blanding Boulevard.

These changes would reduce traffic in the Town of Orange Park between five and 10 percent.

Construction for the leg of the multi-lane toll road extending from Blanding Boulevard to the Shands Bridge will likely wrap-up three years after construction, which is slated to begin in early 2019, according to Knight. That leg alone represents a $511 million investment, one Knight is confident will receive funding from the Florida Legislature this session.

The limited access toll road will eventually connect Interstate 95 in northern St. Johns and Interstate 10 in Duval while weaving through southern and western Clay County. The majority of the toll road runs through Clay County from Green Cove Springs through the Penney Farms and Middleburg areas and through Oakleaf.

The expressway’s northern section, which will connect Blanding Boulevard to Interstate 10 in Duval County, is under construction and scheduled for completion this summer. Construction for the southern leg stretching from I-95 in St. Johns County to the Shands Bridge is in the preliminary design phase.

The Expressway is expected to lead to new housing and commercial development as the build-out progresses, particularly near the toll road’s interchanges. The result – an increase in the Clay County tax base.

The town council wanted to ensure the new development didn’t impact traffic flow in the town where more than 75,000 motorists pass through a day.

“[FDOT has] worked closely with the communities, what their needs are, what their desires are, so when they say a project is ready to go – it’s ready to go,” said County Manager Stephanie Kopelousos, who served as Florida Secretary of Transportation under Gov. Charlie Crist. “As we work through some of the issues in the town and keep the community that we have here I think what you’ll see with DOT that they’re going to throw out a lot of ideas, some you’ll like, some not so much … they’re not going to move forward with a project you don’t like.”

Monday’s special meeting marked the first time economic authorities and county and transportation authorities met in a round table discussion regarding the town’s transportation challenges.

The hope among council members is by meeting with transportation officials, the council can influence potential projects in a greater way.

“Orange Park needs to articulate what the citizens want in the future effectively,” Hanson said. “[The town] has largely been reacting to projects brought to us from others and it would be better to be involved in the beginning to work with folks and encourage projects that we would like to see done.”

The council has scheduled another meeting with FDOT representatives for January regarding a proposed project to extend Plainfield Avenue north to connect with Old Orange Park Road.

The $15-$20 million would save motorists a combined 10,000 hours of travel time and would also include a proposed widening and reconstruction of a three mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 from south of the Wells Road intersection to Birmingham Avenue. Additional improvements include ramp and intersection improvements at U.S. 17 and the I-295 off-ramps, Eldridge Avenue, Old Orange Park Road and Wells Road.

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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