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As Jacksonville Grows...

As Jacksonville grows, we?re beginning to face a traffic dilemma. Roads can only be widened so much and wider roads just bring more traffic congestion and sprawl (look to Atlanta for an example of how more cars feed more traffic frustration). It?s time to start planning for the future, and that future is mass transit.

Published September 28, 2007 in Opinion      43 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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The Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) plan for 2025 includes a network of express bus lanes that will only reach as far West as Blanding and Wilson, South to Baymeadows and Phillips, North to Gateway and East to Regency Square, missing many of the high growth areas of Northeast Florida, such as Nocatee and Oak Leaf. What is the price for these express buses which will speed through 29 miles of Jacksonville? A cool $750 million (assuming zero inflation from now to 2025). One may ask, “Why do express buses cost so much”. Well, if you investigate the JTA’s plan, you’ll find it includes buying out businesses for transit lanes along their routes, elevating bus lanes (imagine something bigger than the Skyway parading through your neighborhood, carrying a bus 30 feet above your head) and creating high speed bus lanes on many downtown streets.

What are other cities our size doing to handle their traffic problems? Investing in rail ֠ and for a fraction of the cost of our express buses. Jacksonville now has the proud distinction of being America’s largest city without a plan for a citywide rail system. Cities like Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina have either just recently launched rail or are actively constructing rail systems – for much less than we are paying. Nashville has constructed 29 miles for $41 million and Austin will open 32 miles for $90 million next year (and went from concept to construction in four years). These are prime examples of how a rail system can be as low as $1 to $3 million per mile. In comparison, JTA’s express bus system is more than $25 million per mile.

Jacksonville is blessed with the prime location of their existing freight rail corridors – the corridors that parallel Phillips Highway and Roosevelt Blvd are perfect examples. Another example is the old S-Line, a former rail corridor already owned by the City of Jacksonville that runs through some of the city’s most dense neighborhoods on the Northside. Many cities our size (and in some cases smaller cities) have struck public-private relationships with freight rail companies, which allow the use of passenger rail alongside freight rail.

One of the major advantages a rail system has over express buses is the economic development that it can ignite. Austin is already enjoying those benefits, with Transit-Oriented Developments under construction next to their rail lines. The greatest advantage of these developments is their integration with rail stations, they can help limit the cars on the road when compared to other developments of the same size.

In light of the many advantages of implementing a comprehensive rail system, the lack of vision that is coming from the JTA is staggering. JTA points to their construction of the Dames Point Bridge and Butler Boulevard as examples of their vision. When a freeway is built in the middle of a wooded area, it will create sprawl. That doesn’t take vision to realize. Instead, JTA’s vision consists of expecting people to wait 20 years for their express bus lanes, except for the fact that their system does not reach the areas of highest growth in the city.

Earlier this year, The Times-Union released an editorial entitled, “Let’s Be Bold”. It spoke of building an outer beltway outside of I-295. The beltway would be about 30 miles long and would cost about $1.8 billion (again, assuming zero inflation from now until it is built). Spending nearly $2 billion on a freeway is not exactly bold, nor does it take vision. Instead, let’s be bold, tell JTA to give Austin, Nashville, Santa Fe, Salt Lake City, Charlotte or any of our peer cities a call, and just do what nearly every city our size has already done and develop a rail plan now.







43 Comments

MWisdom

September 28, 2007, 08:52:35 AM
While I am certainly not opposed to a light-rail system in Jacksonville and think that it would provide a viable solution to the growing transportation problem in the metro area, I also think that the costs to benefits must be carefully weighed.  Light-rail is not the inexpensive solution many people think that it is.  Let’s play Devil’s Advocate a bit…

Take the example of St. Louis, MO.  The light rail system built and put into usage there linked the airport to the downtown and the east side of the Mississippi river (granted the East St. Louis stop was put in place primarily to serve the riverboat casino docked there).  The St. Louis system used a mixture of existing and new rails both above and below ground, along the I-70 corridor to downtown, then underground through existing tunnels beneath the city along Market St. and across the river.  Currently the line extends to Belleville, IL, a suburb about 15 miles from downtown St. Louis.

Capital costs to start the St. Louis system were $464 million with $384 million of that coming from Federal sources and $116 million matched by the Bi-state Development agency mostly in the form of donated rail right-of-ways.  An article published by the Federal Reserve Bank (“Light Rail, Boon or Boondoggle?”) heavily criticizes light-rail citing that the return on investment from fares collected results in less than 30% of the line’s annual operating costs.  The difference is paid for by tax-payers to the tune of $171 million a year – to restate, this covers operating costs only and does not address annual capital costs.  In a study by Stan Winston of the Brookings Institution it is concluded that the social costs of light rail far exceed its benefits (“Brookings Scholar on Rail Transit in America”).  Despite the costs, St. Louis’s transit system is considered a success with ridership far exceeding the 12,000 riders a day predicted.

Rail is usually built on lines that serve central transportation corridors and thus, grab the “cream of the crop” ridership in areas that typically have had low mass transit ridership.  Thus ridership figures are artificially inflated when compared to other mass transit usage.  St. Louis had historically low public transportation usage before the light rail system.    The issue that remains is how to disperse riders from the rail line in the downtown area – will riders get off the train and on to a bus to get to their final destinations?

Rail proponents trumpet development along light rail lines could result in a boom to local business and commercial property markets.  As I understand it, the lines that are being proposed would travel along the existing rail lines beside Roosevelt/17 and Phillips highway.  Those areas are already developed.  Roosevelt/17, it could be argued, is already over-developed while Phillips is seeing a renaissance of sorts with the addition of the Wal-Mart, on the north end and the heavy development near Baymeadows.  Other lines to the beaches along JTB also travel areas which are, or soon will be, heavily developed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against light rail in Jacksonville.  In actuality I think that a rail system including express commuter trains, local trolleys, and mid-distance shuttles would be an over-all benefit to the area.  What I don’t want to see is a system that serves a limited number of riders and goes no where like the current downtown Skyway.  Careful study of population distribution, potential cost versus benefit, and route planning must be completed before a proposal can be made.  For a light rail system to succeed it must have riders, provide a transportation alternative at a reasonable price, and get people where they want to go.

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 09:13:32 AM
While I am certainly not opposed to a light-rail system in Jacksonville and think that it would provide a viable solution to the growing transportation problem in the metro area, I also think that the costs to benefits must be carefully weighed.  Light-rail is not the inexpensive solution many people think that it is.  Let’s play Devil’s Advocate a bit…

I agree, I would like rail also, but not if it's cost prohibitive and involves potentially raising taxes.  Nevertheless, I think the key to what Steve's editorial is the fact that a solution may not have to immediately involve going to full blown light rail.

Quote
Take the example of St. Louis, MO.  The light rail system built and put into usage there linked the airport to the downtown and the east side of the Mississippi river (granted the East St. Louis stop was put in place primarily to serve the riverboat casino docked there).  The St. Louis system used a mixture of existing and new rails both above and below ground, along the I-70 corridor to downtown, then underground through existing tunnels beneath the city along Market St. and across the river.  Currently the line extends to Belleville, IL, a suburb about 15 miles from downtown St. Louis.

Capital costs to start the St. Louis system were $464 million with $384 million of that coming from Federal sources and $116 million matched by the Bi-state Development agency mostly in the form of donated rail right-of-ways.  An article published by the Federal Reserve Bank (“Light Rail, Boon or Boondoggle?”) heavily criticizes light-rail citing that the return on investment from fares collected results in less than 30% of the line’s annual operating costs.  The difference is paid for by tax-payers to the tune of $171 million a year – to restate, this covers operating costs only and does not address annual capital costs.  In a study by Stan Winston of the Brookings Institution it is concluded that the social costs of light rail far exceed its benefits (“Brookings Scholar on Rail Transit in America”).  Despite the costs, St. Louis’s transit system is considered a success with ridership far exceeding the 12,000 riders a day predicted.

As an opposite to St. Louis' light rail start up costs, Steve's article pointed out the relatively low costs for rail in some other communities ($41 million for Nashville's 32 mile system and $112 million for Austin's 32 mile system).  These systems don't involve electrifying track or laying miles of new infrastructure.  Instead both (which are forms of commuter rail) involve running passenger rail cars on existing track.  That's a completely different animal from what traditional light rail involves and costs.  The key is what type of service is best used for certain corridors.  If you can get away running passenger rail on existing tracks, than by means you should take advantage of it.

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Rail is usually built on lines that serve central transportation corridors and thus, grab the “cream of the crop” ridership in areas that typically have had low mass transit ridership.  Thus ridership figures are artificially inflated when compared to other mass transit usage.  St. Louis had historically low public transportation usage before the light rail system.    The issue that remains is how to disperse riders from the rail line in the downtown area – will riders get off the train and on to a bus to get to their final destinations?

Locally, its no coincidence that our existing rail lines and planned BRT corridors (excluding the I-95 BRT route), due just that.  This is because our community grew up around these rail lines and most of the BRT routes just parallel them.  Once again, if we can use our existing rail infrastructure in our dense areas as a "trunk lines", we may be able to save hundreds of millions by not acquiring land and building busway infrastructure that parallels them.

[/quote]Rail proponents trumpet development along light rail lines could result in a boom to local business and commercial property markets.  As I understand it, the lines that are being proposed would travel along the existing rail lines beside Roosevelt/17 and Phillips highway.  Those areas are already developed.  Roosevelt/17, it could be argued, is already over-developed while Phillips is seeing a renaissance of sorts with the addition of the Wal-Mart, on the north end and the heavy development near Baymeadows.  Other lines to the beaches along JTB also travel areas which are, or soon will be, heavily developed.[/quote]

Rail transit oriented developments typically don't create new growth, they redistribute existing growth patterns and directions.  The benefit in redeveloping around stations in corridors, such as Philips and Roosevelt is that older obsolete industrial sites can become positive economic engines in areas where sufficient infrastructure already exists instead of decay and blight, which is what sections of Philips, near Emerson resemble now.  Also, by redistributing growth to areas with sufficient infrastructure already in place, it gives the community a chance to finally control the never ending sprawl that only creates more traffic congestion and heartache in the suburbs.

As for the S-Line, through the Northside, it gives us the chance to revive the densest and most pedestrian friendly areas of town.  If properly coordinated with the City's planning department, this gives us the opportunity to address many other problems in our community, such as affordable housing, connectivity, crime, economic stagnation, etc.

Quote
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against light rail in Jacksonville.  In actuality I think that a rail system including express commuter trains, local trolleys, and mid-distance shuttles would be an over-all benefit to the area.  What I don’t want to see is a system that serves a limited number of riders and goes no where like the current downtown Skyway.  Careful study of population distribution, potential cost versus benefit, and route planning must be completed before a proposal can be made.  For a light rail system to succeed it must have riders, provide a transportation alternative at a reasonable price, and get people where they want to go.


I agree 100%

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 09:21:48 AM
This should help clear up the issue about Jax's density.  Here's a population density map from the 2000 census with the S-Line (northside), FEC (southside) and CSX A (westside) existing rail lines overlayed in green.  Note how are densest pockets of population string these things.  You could not ask for better routes for a potential "trunk line" system (outside of sufficient service to the Arlington/Regency area).



This image also gives you an idea of where potential express bus/BRT improvements should be made, feeding riders from areas not located near these potential trunk rail lines.

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 09:28:22 AM
Btw, you'll also see in that map above, the downtown core, which was once the densest section of the city, has now become a low density hole in the Northside.  Even portions of sprawling Mandarin and the Regency areas have a higher population density/mile (and we wonder why Fire House Subs closes its doors).  The benefit of rail in the core, is we would then have the opportunity to really fill the hole in the middle of the Northside doughnut.

Lunican

September 28, 2007, 09:55:44 AM
Quote
An article published by the Federal Reserve Bank (“Light Rail, Boon or Boondoggle?”) heavily criticizes light-rail citing that the return on investment from fares collected results in less than 30% of the line’s annual operating costs.  The difference is paid for by tax-payers to the tune of $171 million a year – to restate, this covers operating costs only and does not address annual capital costs. 

The problem with this line of thinking is that the "return on investment" does not come from the farebox. It comes from the benefits of having a viable mass transit system and the huge savings from building less roads, not to mention the environmental and development aspects. What exactly is the return on investment for a road? That 30% from the farebox is 30% more than roads will do.

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In a study by Stan Winston of the Brookings Institution it is concluded that the social costs of light rail far exceed its benefits (“Brookings Scholar on Rail Transit in America”).  Despite the costs, St. Louis’s transit system is considered a success with ridership far exceeding the 12,000 riders a day predicted.

Which has a higher social cost: Road construction or a rail system? It's actually pretty ridiculous to use "social costs" to oppose light rail when the social cost of the alternative is many times worse.

MWisdom

September 28, 2007, 10:04:44 AM
Great info, and thoughtful rebuttal.  Like I said earlier, I am not opposed, I just want to be sure that it is done the right way.  Mass transit is an extremely polarizing topic and will likely bring numerous opinions and arguments.  It is extremely important that the most salient points from each be carefully scrutinized and acted upon.

There can be little argument that trunk lines along the major corridors in your illustration would benefit the highest population centers of the Jacksonville area.  However, these lines do not address the problem of rapidly increasing density in the beaches area particularly East Arlington and Ponte Vedra/Nocatee.  Moving riders from their homes to the trunk lines is a problem, too.  Current Park and Ride lots are underused and most of the riders the trunk lines hope to attract will likely resist being bussed to a rail station.  Thus, ridership by people who live outside of comfortable walking distance to a rail station will be low.  This alone will prove to be a major detractor for the system as a large amount of potential riders will fall into this category.  When you consider current “hot spot” development areas like Oakleaf, Nocatee, Julington Creek, and even Middleburg you see that a large portion of the population will be significantly underserved.

A response to the resistance to riding busses can be addressed by building feeder lines from the more remote population centers.  Local trolley or mid-distance shuttle lines, however, do not have the ready-made rail lines and right-of-ways the trunk lines have.  Thereby putting these lines in will prove to be extremely expensive to construct in time, money and frustration to drivers trying to navigate streets being torn up to lay rail.  

So, we are back to the problem of feasibility.  I think that the plan of creating high-speed bus lines if ridiculous, but I also feel rail would be an extremely expensive alternative in the long-run.


thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 10:16:35 AM
Great info, and thoughtful rebuttal.  Like I said earlier, I am not opposed, I just want to be sure that it is done the right way.  Mass transit is an extremely polarizing topic and will likely bring numerous opinions and arguments.  It is extremely important that the most salient points from each be carefully scrutinized and acted upon.

There can be little argument that trunk lines along the major corridors in your illustration would benefit the highest population centers of the Jacksonville area.  However, these lines do not address the problem of rapidly increasing density in the beaches area particularly East Arlington and Ponte Vedra/Nocatee.  Moving riders from their homes to the trunk lines is a problem, too.  Current Park and Ride lots are underused and most of the riders the trunk lines hope to attract will likely resist being bussed to a rail station.  Thus, ridership by people who live outside of comfortable walking distance to a rail station will be low.  This alone will prove to be a major detractor for the system as a large amount of potential riders will fall into this category.  When you consider current “hot spot” development areas like Oakleaf, Nocatee, Julington Creek, and even Middleburg you see that a large portion of the population will be significantly underserved.

You have to start somewhere.  Right now, those lines provide direct service to most of the metro's current transit dependent community and those who will walk to stops, as opposed to drive.  Regarding the beaches and Ponte Vedra, the easiest thing would be to take a stab out of Minneapolis' playbook and run some form of BRT down JTB or Beach (not in the form of dedicated busway, but perhaps an HOV/carpool lane that includes buses.

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A response to the resistance to riding busses can be addressed by building feeder lines from the more remote population centers.  Local trolley or mid-distance shuttle lines, however, do not have the ready-made rail lines and right-of-ways the trunk lines have.  Thereby putting these lines in will prove to be extremely expensive to construct in time, money and frustration to drivers trying to navigate streets being torn up to lay rail.  

So, we are back to the problem of feasibility.  I think that the plan of creating high-speed bus lines if ridiculous, but I also feel rail would be an extremely expensive alternative in the long-run.

Rail as extremely expensive to what?  At some point something has to be done and the solutions are either some form of rail, bus, a mix of the two or more roads.  When all are laid out on the table, roads will always end up being the most expensive alternative.

Ocklawaha

September 28, 2007, 11:01:50 AM
Quote
There can be little argument that trunk lines along the major corridors in your illustration would benefit the highest population centers of the Jacksonville area.  However, these lines do not address the problem of rapidly increasing density in the beaches area particularly East Arlington and Ponte Vedra/Nocatee.  Moving riders from their homes to the trunk lines is a problem, too.  Current Park and Ride lots are underused and most of the riders the trunk lines hope to attract will likely resist being bussed to a rail station.  Thus, ridership by people who live outside of comfortable walking distance to a rail station will be low.  This alone will prove to be a major detractor for the system as a large amount of potential riders will fall into this category.  When you consider current “hot spot” development areas like Oakleaf, Nocatee, Julington Creek, and even Middleburg you see that a large portion of the population will be significantly underserved.

It is true that Light Rail could not serve every "hot spot" in the metropolitan area. Neither will the BRT system. Any starter system will have to include some trunk line portions. As rail can be built for $3 - $4 Million a mile WITH electrical (traditional light rail) it is far cheaper then highway lanes to build. We are not St. Louis, there will be no Mississippi River Bridge, or Subway construction in Jacksonville. This is not an imagined pie-in-the-sky price, this came from engineers, consultants and contractors, in Jacksonville, YESTERDAY!  These facts alone make St. Louis, Buffalo and other special case construction LRT systems a very bad model for us to compare with. For a more honest mirror in electric rail look to Charlotte, Albuquerque, and Portland Streetcar or Memphis, Ft. Smith, Kenosha or McKinney Avenue Dallas Heritage projects. How the LRT system serves Oakleaf, Nocatee, Julington Creek or Middleburg has almost as many answers as destinations. Some through future expansion, some through joint Duval - Clay - St. Johns - Nassau County planning and construction, others with a network of feeder buses that hub out of local transit centers located along the rail line itself. Where do the local buses come from? They are taken from routes the rail would replace, and from routes that could be curtailed short of downtown because of rail. Thus rail improves the entire bus system and adds a layer to the critical mix of mass transit.  

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A response to the resistance to riding buses can be addressed by building feeder lines from the more remote population centers.  Local trolley or mid-distance shuttle lines, however, do not have the ready-made rail lines and right-of-ways the trunk lines have.  Thereby putting these lines in will prove to be extremely expensive to construct in time, money and frustration to drivers trying to navigate streets being torn up to lay rail

Rail to the more remote population centers is what it is. The same is true for the highway system. Many buses reach the rural or suburban areas by running zig-zags all over the neighborhood to seek out riders and congregation points. This is simply what buses do best. It would be crazy to try and duplicate this with rail. On the other  hand it would be crazy to try and duplicate the speed, comfort, and capacity of rail with a bus. Especially when the rail is already there.

Great Questions.


Ocklawaha

Steve

September 28, 2007, 11:18:12 AM
However, these lines do not address the problem of rapidly increasing density in the beaches area particularly East Arlington and Ponte Vedra/Nocatee.

Keep two things in mind.

1. Part of the point of this letter was to ring to light JTA's $750 million potential boondoggle.  The furthest they go to the east is Regency Square, hardly reaching these areas.

2. This does serve Nocatee.  Despite what they want to say, Nocatee is not really in Ponte Vedra (the entire development is west of the intracostal, and it's west border is US 1, which the rail lines hit)

Also, nowhere in this does it mention opposition to the concept of BRT.  BRT makes sense in many circumstances, and can be a cheap way to offer mass transit.  The problem comes when it cost double and triple that of rail.

Thereby putting these lines in will prove to be extremely expensive to construct in time, money and frustration to drivers trying to navigate streets being torn up to lay rail.

The mode of transportation is usually not the big cost.  It is the land to acquire to lay your transportation infrastructure.  JTA has made soem odd decisions on their routes to say the least.  For example, the decision on their southwest line at the Roosevent-Blanding Split to use Blanding (where there are buildings up to the property line in many cases down to Wilson) as opposed to Roosevelt (which has the Rail corridor, and much more of a suburban layout along the side of the road.  That to me is mindboggling.

Ocklawaha

September 28, 2007, 11:38:51 AM
Quote
Thereby putting these lines in will prove to be extremely expensive to construct in time, money and frustration to drivers trying to navigate streets being torn up to lay rail.

I love this quote, the streets torn up to lay rail is classic highway speak. First, who says the LRT has to be in a street? It's a railroad. It can be along side the street, in the median, on it's own railroad right of way, elevated or subway or..??? Even if it were built in the street, it demonstrates the publics lack of contact with light rail over the last 50 years. Street trackage is usually built in 3 to 4 block segments. The torn up street is really a 10' wide x 24" inch deep cut made in the pavement. Often closing off one parking lane and routing the traffic around the construction with little disruption. The segments are built out in 3 - 4 week increments, so no one suffers long from any needed construction. The whole process is fast and fairly painless.  

Ocklawaha

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 01:07:34 PM
You mean its quicker than the time it will take to expand JTB or Beach Blvd from 4 to 6 lanes?

Ocklawaha

September 28, 2007, 01:41:28 PM



Albuquerque is moving at the rate of nearly one block per week, pretty darn fast. They are going right down the middle with a parkway concept on much of it. So yes, faster then JTB... and JTB... and JTB... and...

Ocklawaha

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 01:54:29 PM
Albuquerque just got commuter rail last year and now they're getting light rail too?  For some reason many of these cities out west appear to be pretty progressive in embracing alternative forms of mass transit.

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 02:00:00 PM
from the TU forums.....

Quote
Re: Low-cost rail for Jacksonville is far more realistic than realized
Posted by: getreal
Posted on: 9/28/07 - 12:01 p.m.

This group keeps pushing rail but they never talk about one minor little detail that makes rail impractical in Jax. That little detail is what many consider our greatest asset, the St Johns River. There is only one, count 'em one rail crossing on the river, and that needs to be shared with the freight lines and Amtrac.

http://cgi.jacksonville.com/cgi-bin/msgboard/boards/news/view.cgi?section=28931

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 02:06:42 PM
Interesting?  I figured the most difficult aspect of passenger rail on existing tracks would be acquiring lease agreements or purchasing rail ROW from freight companies, not the St. Johns River. Jax isn't the only American city with a river dividing it.  If places like St. Louis and Portland can find away to get rail across their rivers, we should be able to.  Imo, the St. Johns River is not even an obstacle worth talking about.

Steve

September 28, 2007, 02:12:03 PM
To me, that's no different than competing with freight or amtrak on any freight line.  The bridge is no different than any other section of track, except the beidge has to be raised and lowered whenever there is a crossing.  Ocklawaha - do you have any idea the actual traffic on that line?

Not to mention - explain to me how that would be a factor on any line except the Phillips Hwy Line?  How many trains from the north or west would need to cross the river.

We just come up with any excuse possible to fight rail.

avonjax

September 28, 2007, 02:17:02 PM
Sadly Getreal is of the same mind set of much of Jacksonville, and the JTA for that matter. We look for  any obstacle we can find to shoot down any progressive idea involving mass transit other than buses. And interestingly even he calls crossing the river a minor detail.
And we surely can't be worried about cost because anyone with half a brain has to realize that the BRT cost is going to be shocking when the cost skyrockets over the next 15 or so years.

MWisdom

September 28, 2007, 03:38:33 PM
Interesting?  I figured the most difficult aspect of passenger rail on existing tracks would be acquiring lease agreements or purchasing rail ROW from freight companies, not the St. Johns River. Jax isn't the only American city with a river dividing it.  If places like St. Louis and Portland can find away to get rail across their rivers, we should be able to.  Imo, the St. Johns River is not even an obstacle worth talking about.

I had not even considered the problem of crossing the river.  But, now that it has been pointed out that seems a considerable obsticle.  In comparing costs of BRT to LR, that single factor -- that there is only one rail bridge across the river -- could inflate the price to an astronimical amount.  Consider the cost and time it would take to span the river with another rail bridge!

There may be other solutions, perhaps the line that travels to the southside has a termination point in San Marco and riders transfer to the Skyway.  But, sharing the current rail bridge seems like it would be a very difficult task. The sheer volume of commuter trains would increase the traffic on that bridge to a point that the draw bridge would be in a perpetually down position.

While on the subject of sharing facilities, what kind of strain would adding commuter trains add to the currently heavy use of the rails?  I live near the rails in Orange Park and hear the trains passing all night and day, I have been stopped at rail crossings inumerous times and have counted as many as six trains traveling the 17/Roosevelt line as I drive to or from work.  As it is, the trains snarl traffic causing many driver headaches. Add to this commuter trains traveling between stations at a rate of twenty minutes between stops.  In my unscientific estimation that would add around six trains to the rails along 17/Roosevelt causing the crossing arms to come down six more times an hour for an average of two minutes each time.  That works out to twelve additional minutes of traffic interuption due to trains.

Also, one has to consider how the addition of commuter trains will disrupt freight and Amtrak service.  Adding regular commuter service would necissitate a very delicate ballet indeed for the rail traffic controllers at CSX (I know one of these guys and he says the rails are already quite congested).  Right now there are two sets of tracks along 17/Roosevelt, with several side rails for trains to pass one another.  Think of the congestion adding rapid transit trains to a line that already carries both short, rapid Amtrak trains and longer, slower-moving freight trains.  That would be one complicated game of leap frog.

A solution to this is to use the exisitng right-of-way and add additional track, but that is costly, too.  St. Louis used a combination of new and exisitng track for the majority of its original line.  The line runs from the St. Louis airport to downtown and only goes underground once it is in the city.  Even then, the underground portion used mostly pre-exisiting, abandoned tunnels which were renovated for the new use.  St. Louis extensively used exisitng infrastructure to keep the costs of construction low.  Even at that the cost came in around $16.5 million per mile in early 1990's dollars. 

New track cost on other projects around the country averge around $68 million per mile.  Some cost more to the tune of nearly $100 million per mile and others cost less at around $25 million per mile.  If we look at those costs and take the lower end price tag -- $25 million per mile -- we are still looking at over $375 million (not including cost over-runs which average nearly 41% nationally -- which could see the project cost skyrocket to over $528 million) for just one line running from Orange Park to downtown.  And these are not one-time costs.  Just like roads, rail must be maintained and replaced over time.  Currently rail systems last between 20 and 30 years, necessitating replacement within that time period at significantly inflated costs. 

Rail is a wonderful idea, but there are many things to think about before we commit fully to the idea.  As I said in a previous post, every idea and argument should be listened to carefully.  For every good idea there will several reasons why it will not work.  For every argument against there will be many solutions.  We all need to stand back from our various postions onthe issue and truly consider the cost in not only today's dollars, but tomorrow's.





Pavers

September 28, 2007, 03:44:29 PM
I work right next to the rail at the Aetna building, and that bridge goes up and down a lot during the day.  I can't say I've timed it, but I would guess that crossings/day are accessible through some public record.

I don't know how much of a bottleneck our lone river bridge is to your ideas, but I wouldn't dismiss it offhandedly.  The river bridge is already a pain in the butt for those that commute around the San Marco or Baptist areas (can you imagine being in an ambulance having to wait for the train to get to the emergency room?), so I wonder what that would do to the area if you had light rail trains running through there every 3-5 minutes.

I may be wrong, but I assume other cities with rivers (ie St Louis) have rail bridges that are elevated.  Our low-level rail bridge that hugs the water may be unique among large metro areas.  That would likely cost a pretty penny to alter.

Pavers

September 28, 2007, 03:50:34 PM
One more thing to consider - sorry to be a rail party pooper...

How would the planned mega-expansion of the port affect rail traffic locally (and thus light rail)?  If the commericial rails are moderately strained now, those new port ships are going to be unloading a bunch of containers - that will be heading on truck and rail toward its ultimate destination.  If the port is going to grow like gangbusters as planned/hoped, what does that mean for the current rail system in the area?

copperfiend

September 28, 2007, 03:56:03 PM
The sad thing about that picture of OP in front of the mall is it could have been taken at any time of day. That is one of the most congested roads I have ever been on. It is one of the reasons I moved from OP a few years ago.

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 04:03:51 PM
Interesting?  I figured the most difficult aspect of passenger rail on existing tracks would be acquiring lease agreements or purchasing rail ROW from freight companies, not the St. Johns River. Jax isn't the only American city with a river dividing it.  If places like St. Louis and Portland can find away to get rail across their rivers, we should be able to.  Imo, the St. Johns River is not even an obstacle worth talking about.

I had not even considered the problem of crossing the river.  But, now that it has been pointed out that seems a considerable obsticle.  In comparing costs of BRT to LR, that single factor -- that there is only one rail bridge across the river -- could inflate the price to an astronimical amount.  Consider the cost and time it would take to span the river with another rail bridge!

The Metro Jacksonville plan calls for using EXISTING rail corridors, not creating new ones.  With just the CSX "A" (parallels Roosevelt) and the S-Line (the Northside), you could have a +20 mile rail trunk line serving most of the city's densest communities and the river is not a factor at all.  Any lease agreement with FEC would involve using the downtown rail bridge, which is already double tracked, so the St. Johns River should be the least of anyone's worry, unless they're trying to create new rail corridors, which then makes the concept cost prohibitive.

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There may be other solutions, perhaps the line that travels to the southside has a termination point in San Marco and riders transfer to the Skyway.  But, sharing the current rail bridge seems like it would be a very difficult task. The sheer volume of commuter trains would increase the traffic on that bridge to a point that the draw bridge would be in a perpetually down position.

Commuter rail lines all across the country share tracks with busy freight lines.  Coordination is the key in this situation.  

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While on the subject of sharing facilities, what kind of strain would adding commuter trains add to the currently heavy use of the rails?  I live near the rails in Orange Park and hear the trains passing all night and day, I have been stopped at rail crossings inumerous times and have counted as many as six trains traveling the 17/Roosevelt line as I drive to or from work.  As it is, the trains snarl traffic causing many driver headaches. Add to this commuter trains traveling between stations at a rate of twenty minutes between stops.  In my unscientific estimation that would add around six trains to the rails along 17/Roosevelt causing the crossing arms to come down six more times an hour for an average of two minutes each time.  That works out to twelve additional minutes of traffic interuption due to trains.

Do you know that a significant portion of trains using the rails near Orange Park may soon be relocated to the line running between Baldwin and Central Florida, because of Orlando's commuter rail deal?  The capacity that move would free up could open the door from passenger rail between downtown, Orange Park and perhaps Green Cove Springs.

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Also, one has to consider how the addition of commuter trains will disrupt freight and Amtrak service.  Adding regular commuter service would necissitate a very delicate ballet indeed for the rail traffic controllers at CSX (I know one of these guys and he says the rails are already quite congested).  Right now there are two sets of tracks along 17/Roosevelt, with several side rails for trains to pass one another.  Think of the congestion adding rapid transit trains to a line that already carries both short, rapid Amtrak trains and longer, slower-moving freight trains.  That would be one complicated game of leap frog.

Coordination and scheduling is the key.  That's what makes commuter rail on freight tracks in places like New Jersey and South Florida work.

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A solution to this is to use the exisitng right-of-way and add additional track, but that is costly, too.  St. Louis used a combination of new and exisitng track for the majority of its original line.  The line runs from the St. Louis airport to downtown and only goes underground once it is in the city.  Even then, the underground portion used mostly pre-exisiting, abandoned tunnels which were renovated for the new use.  St. Louis extensively used exisitng infrastructure to keep the costs of construction low.  Even at that the cost came in around $16.5 million per mile in early 1990's dollars.

St. Louis' plan was light rail and it still came in at $10 million/less per mile than JTA's current BRT proposal.  Commuter rail using existing rail, such as the line through Orange Park can be as cheap as $5 to $10 million a mile.  When you already own the right-of-way (like we do with the S-Line), your overall costs can drop to less than $5 million/mile, like Austin's ($3.5 million/mile or 32 mile line that will open in 2008). 

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New track cost on other projects around the country averge around $68 million per mile.  Some cost more to the tune of nearly $100 million per mile and others cost less at around $25 million per mile.  If we look at those costs and take the lower end price tag -- $25 million per mile -- we are still looking at over $375 million (not including cost over-runs which average nearly 41% nationally -- which could see the project cost skyrocket to over $528 million) for just one line running from Orange Park to downtown.  And these are not one-time costs.  Just like roads, rail must be maintained and replaced over time.  Currently rail systems last between 20 and 30 years, necessitating replacement within that time period at significantly inflated costs.

Ock can explain much better than me, but when you come up with a number like $68 million/mile, you're adding systems like the Skyway, subways, elevated rail to the mix.  Using existing rail and eliminating the "bells & whistles" can put you in a whole new ballpark price wise.  Believe it or not, but right-of-way acquisition and the construction of infrastructure is what makes the cost of a project balloon, not whether its a bus, car or train.  Take a look at these recent Metro Jacksonville articles for proof of recent rail systems (since 2006) that came in under $4 million a mile:

Nashville's Music City Star: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/588/116/

Austin's Capital MetroRail:  http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/589/116/

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Rail is a wonderful idea, but there are many things to think about before we commit fully to the idea.  As I said in a previous post, every idea and argument should be listened to carefully.  For every good idea there will several reasons why it will not work.  For every argument against there will be many solutions.  We all need to stand back from our various postions onthe issue and truly consider the cost in not only today's dollars, but tomorrow's.

You pose some great arguments.  However, the ease at answering them further validates that we should seriously consider mixing rail with the current BRT purposal or adding more expressways to our road network.  Also, remember "rail" is just as diverse as "bus" or "car".  There's several different forms that come with different price tags, so you shoot yourself in the foot when you assume it averages $68 million a mile, without evaluating what specific items make up the $68 million.






[/quote]

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 04:08:34 PM
I work right next to the rail at the Aetna building, and that bridge goes up and down a lot during the day.  I can't say I've timed it, but I would guess that crossings/day are accessible through some public record.

I don't know how much of a bottleneck our lone river bridge is to your ideas, but I wouldn't dismiss it offhandedly.  The river bridge is already a pain in the butt for those that commute around the San Marco or Baptist areas (can you imagine being in an ambulance having to wait for the train to get to the emergency room?), so I wonder what that would do to the area if you had light rail trains running through there every 3-5 minutes.

I may be wrong, but I assume other cities with rivers (ie St Louis) have rail bridges that are elevated.  Our low-level rail bridge that hugs the water may be unique among large metro areas.  That would likely cost a pretty penny to alter.

Again, I doubt it.  We could run a pretty efficient rail system in this community and not even have to cross the river at all, in the event that FEC is not open to the idea (the opposite appears to be the case).  However, in depth negotiations with FEC would hatch out exactly what would have to be done to the rail bridge crossing (if it were an issue).  If it is, then we as a community have to decide if it's viable to have a rail line running from Clay to potentially Fernandina Beach and some other form of mass transit (perhaps BRT) to serve the sprawling Southside.

thelakelander

September 28, 2007, 04:18:10 PM
One more thing to consider - sorry to be a rail party pooper...

How would the planned mega-expansion of the port affect rail traffic locally (and thus light rail)?  If the commericial rails are moderately strained now, those new port ships are going to be unloading a bunch of containers - that will be heading on truck and rail toward its ultimate destination.  If the port is going to grow like gangbusters as planned/hoped, what does that mean for the current rail system in the area?

Remember "rail" DOES NOT have to be "light rail".  Using existing lines would be a form of "commuter rail" with potential DMU vehicles because those lines would also carry freight trains as well.

As for the port you're talking about timing their, just like with any other typical commuter rail operation.  If you don't want to deal with timing, then you're looking at running parallel track for about a six mile segment between Panama Park and just South of I-295, which will cost more than using the existing track, but less than building a road or busway.

Timing is not really a factor on the S-Line (Gateway to Downtown) because the city owns the ROW and would have to install new track and the CSX A line may not be a significant issue, because of the Orlando commuter rail deal.

For those who are interested in seeing how far this rail thing has come along and where it's about to go, feel free to join us at our weekly meetings at Starbucks in 11 East, from 6 to 8pm on Tuesdays.

Lunican

October 01, 2007, 12:11:09 AM
Here are the Coast Guard regulations regarding the FEC's St. Johns River Bridge.

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PART 117--DRAWBRIDGE OPERATION REGULATIONS--Table of Contents
 
Subpart B--Specific Requirements
 
Sec. 117.325  St. Johns River.

(c) The draw of the Florida East Coast automated railroad bridge,
mile 24.9, shall operate as follows:
    (1) The bridge shall be constantly tended and have a mechanical
override capability for the automated operation. A radiotelephone shall
be maintained at the bridge for the safety of navigation.
    (2) The draw is normally in the fully open position, displaying
flashing green lights to indicate that vessels may pass.
    (3) When a train approaches, large signs on both the upstream and
downstream sides of the bridge flash ``Bridge Coming Down,'' the lights
go to flashing red, and siren signals sound. After an eight minute
delay, the draw lowers and locks if there are no vessels under the draw.
The draw remains down for a period of eight minutes or while the
approach track circuit is occupied.
    (4) After the train has cleared, the draw opens and the lights
return to flashing green.

This amounts to: Train comes, bridge goes down. After train crosses, bridge goes up.

Steve

October 01, 2007, 09:37:07 AM
Out of curiosity, what would be the implications if the bridge operated opposite that, and normally had the bridge down.  Then, when a boat needed to come by, the bridge opened?

gatorback

October 01, 2007, 09:47:11 AM
Bottom line ROI.  If CSX does't get better then a 25% return on their investment they don't do the project.  Post 911 cost of building plus global ecomomic comprtion for natural resources makes having a chance of getting the return 0. This leaves governments doing projects since they dont care about roi. 

thelakelander

October 01, 2007, 09:51:09 AM
The bridge is owned by FEC, not CSX.

Lunican

October 01, 2007, 10:09:06 AM
Out of curiosity, what would be the implications if the bridge operated opposite that, and normally had the bridge down.  Then, when a boat needed to come by, the bridge opened?

I don't think there is any benefit to operating like that. The trains don't wait for the bridge to come down, it is put down in advance of the train.

According to those rules, there are no limitations to the amount of time the bridge can be down, so if you've got trains coming, it stays down. There is also no limit to the number of times it goes down.

Jason

October 01, 2007, 10:17:13 AM
I don't think that the bridge is much of a nusance to commercial river traffic either, just the pleasure boaters.

thelakelander

October 01, 2007, 10:18:25 AM
Any concern on the amount of traffic being delayed by trains using the tracks in the Southbank?  At what point is it time to start considering constructing a grade separated crossing at either Hendricks or San Marco Blvd?

Ocklawaha

October 01, 2007, 07:30:43 PM

Yesterday's Florida East Coast Railway


Please forgive my lateness, I've been chasing a future grandson, to Orlando and back. Still no baby, but the Doc thinks any day...hour...minute...????

FEC currently originates 8 freight trains daily Southbound from Bowden Yard. It terminates 9 Northbounds at Bowden. Only one Southbound is out in the AM hours, and 5 Northbounds are in during the AM hours. Everything else happens in the PM. This works well for Jax. as the commuter trains are running North in the AM, right in sinc with the FEC rolling into Bowden. Out of these a couple each way are built in Atlanta and Macon on the Norfolk Southern and pretty much "run through" to Miami.

To put all fears to rest, I've calculated the following imaginary schedule, based on current FEC times and REAL track speeds.

AM NORTHBOUND TRAINS

From:

St. Augustine.............6:20 AM.....7:10 AM.....8:26 AM......9:14 AM
Durbin/Nocatee..........6:37...........7:27..........8:43...........9:31
Bayard/Dog Track.......6:43...........7:33..........8:49...........9:37
Greenland/Avenues.....6:45...........7:35..........8:51...........9:39
Bowden/University......6:51...........7:41..........8:57...........9:45
S. Jax/San Marco.......6:58...........7:48..........9:03...........9:52
Jacksonville Terml.......7:10 AM......8:00 AM.....9:15 AM.....10:04 AM

Jacksonville Terml.......7:25 AM......8:15 AM
S. Jax/San Marco.......7:37............8:27
Bowden/University......7:44............8:34
Greenland/Avenues.....7:47............8:37
Bayard/Dog Track.......7:49............8:39
Durbin/Nocatee..........7:55............8:45
St. Augustine.............8:07 AM.......8:57 AM

This demonstrates the typical dance of two sets of DMU trains, running the morning shift to/from St. Augustine. The afternoon would just mirror the morning, I could work it up if anyone is interested. Ditto for the "S" or "A" lines. It does give a snap shot of what commuter rail in Jacksonville could look like with what we already have on the ground.

As for the friend that says the railroads are over crowded, yes, they are VERY busy, ton miles are running at an all time high, however, train miles are way down from peaks in WWII and the 50's and 60's. FEC was running it's freights with 12, COUNT THEM 12 passenger trains a day in 1961! They were:

#75 The Havana Special (SB)
#76 The Havana Special (NB)
#29 Local Express (SB)
#30 Local Express (NB)
#5 City of Miami/South Wind (SB)
#6 City of Miami/South Wind (NB)
#7 Miamian (SB)
#8 Miamian (NB)
#1 East Coast Champion (SB)
#2 East Coast Champion (NB)
#87 Florida Special (SB)
#88 Florida Special (NB)

This was all dispatched by telegraph key, and block, each order handed up on "flimseys" or tissue copys to the crew with wooden hoops as the train sped past. If they could do this in 61 under those conditions, why would anyone think with modern computerized signals and sidings, all automated, we can't do it today? Give me a break...

As for Track Cost? $3-4 Million a mile, on grade such as the FEC or CSX. Closer to 4 down City Streets but that INCLUDES the cantenary (electrical) for streetcars. $68 Million? Not a chance, unless we reconstruct the railway to Key West maybe. Someone has read far too many JTA, (find the most expensive rail projects in history reports).

Oh, the humanity...
 



Tomorrow's Florida East Coast - Jacksonville Commuter Rail Image?


Ocklawaha

thelakelander

October 01, 2007, 08:58:15 PM
Tell your daughter I said congrats on the new trolley buff!  When you get a chance to get around to it, see if you can come up with a potential schedule for the CSX A and S-Line segments as well.  Thanks.

Ocklawaha

October 01, 2007, 10:04:45 PM
Okay y'all, I'll do the whole set of schedules...

Ocklawaha

gatorback

October 02, 2007, 06:33:50 AM
Including but not limited to some arbitrary stop near JIA.  Then for me, it would be just a short hop over the pond to Austin on some random commuter flight.  If I can't physically get there at the moment to support my family's current existential freak-out meltdown at least I could get there in my mind.  ;D 

Ocklawaha

October 02, 2007, 11:21:35 AM
Working on it Gatorback. It will include a Airport Station. The station would be located due East of the Airport just past the River City Marketplace.

Ocklawaha

gatorback

October 02, 2007, 06:16:41 PM
You're awesome Ock!  What is the chance of having bike racks to get more credits from the US Gov.? 

Ocklawaha

October 02, 2007, 10:23:00 PM
Gatorback and other riders rejoice! The standard City bus rack holds 2 or 3 bicycles... The average LIGHT RAIL VEHICLE holds 15, INSIDE. They can be ordered with more space if demand warrants it.  


Train or LRV type bike storage


Your basic everyday bus rack

Ocklawaha

gatorback

October 02, 2007, 10:39:29 PM
can it be an electric bike (wt apprx. 90 lbs) or an electric scooter?  That would be nice.

Ocklawaha

October 03, 2007, 09:32:34 AM
As long as it uses the same space, I don't see why not.

Ocklawaha

Silky

October 22, 2007, 07:23:08 PM
 Ok people $ilky here. Let me tell you about our fine city. Over the years we have made big improvements like removing the tolls (only to move crime to regency), the NFL team (only to mow down low income housing around the stadium and disperse the consumers to Arlington and other outlying areas) and the brand new ghetto the built next to the old ghetto on State Street. (Note, even old ghettos were new once- my house is old but I still have plumbing and no holes in the wall.) You charge on in your quest to grow Jacksonville into this” culturized” city, I prefer the good ol’ days I’ll pay the 35 cents to move about and watch the Dolphins play on Sunday.
Shalom

jbm32206

October 22, 2007, 07:32:02 PM
Ock...have you looked at the riverline in New Jersey? It runs from Trenton to Camden. It's a really nice little train, and you can take your bike on it too.
http://www.riverline.com/

jbm32206

October 22, 2007, 07:39:15 PM
Ok people $ilky here. Let me tell you about our fine city. Over the years we have made big improvements like removing the tolls (only to move crime to regency), the NFL team (only to mow down low income housing around the stadium and disperse the consumers to Arlington and other outlying areas) and the brand new ghetto the built next to the old ghetto on State Street. (Note, even old ghettos were new once- my house is old but I still have plumbing and no holes in the wall.) You charge on in your quest to grow Jacksonville into this” culturized” city, I prefer the good ol’ days I’ll pay the 35 cents to move about and watch the Dolphins play on Sunday.
Shalom
I'm not sure how removing the tolls helped move crime to regency...it was always there, it's just that like just about everywhere else in the city, it's increased. That, you can thank the gun totting thugs. Same goes for the 'brand new ghetto" on State Street. As for the NFL/Jags...they pretty much enhanced the surrounding area, whereas most of it was run down...and the low income residents didn't all flee to Arlington. There's sections of Arlington that have been notorious for it's criminal activites for years, long before the stadium was remodeled.
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