Monroe Street: Do The Right Thing

October 25, 2011 46 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

This evening, the Jacksonville City Council will officially decide to either construct a new street and call it Monroe or to save taxpayers a possible $1 million. Here are five reasons why council members on the fence should not support forcing a new street into the courthouse site.

1. Monroe Street No Longer Exists

The real Monroe Street has a building on top of it.  Thus, we're not reopening an existing street, we're funding the construction of a completely new corridor.

Some view this issue as simply reopening Monroe Street.  However, simply reopening an existing street by removing temporary barricades isn't at play.  Monroe Street was forever closed when the council approved the plan to place a 120' building on top of it in 2008.  However, accessibility hasn't suffered because three other downtown exits from I-95/I-10 (Forsyth, Union & Forest Streets) provide efficient access to the site and downtown as well.  What's at play now is the complete construction of a brand new street that many professionals have already deemed as unneeded, costly and dangerous.

2. Pedestrian Safety

If a street is built, 500,000 annual pedestrians will have to maneuver two busy one-way streets to get to the front door of the courthouse.

An estimated 500,000 pedestrians will walk from the courthouse garage, south of Adams, to the courthouse's entrance.  Forcing a curving automobile arterial into a cramped space and causing a reverse vehicular traffic flow could easily result in a number of pedestrian injuries.

3. Incremental Approach

The incremental approach would create a green space, similar to this one in front of Nashville-Davidson County's courthouse, while the validity of a new street named Monroe is ultimately decided within the context of how it impacts the entire downtown environment.

Would anyone really suffer if the council decides not to rush into spending taxpayer dollars on a project that has been deemed unneccessary?  Voting for Bill 2011-615 would immediately save taxpayers $800,000 by not constructing a brand new street and calling it Monroe.  However, the bill would also leave the potential street right-of-way free of any permanent, expensive fixtures.  In the event that it's proven that a new street is needed after the courthouse opens, it can be built at a later date and in a manner that best fits in with its physically constrained surroundings.

The new legislation would cut $800,000 -- the amount set aside earlier for either a road or a plaza -- from an account tied to the courthouse project. The money would be moved to a pollution cleanup project that's being funded from bond money, which would spare the city borrowing more money.

The nearly finished courthouse stands in the path that Monroe used to travel. Council members and downtown activists have argued about whether building a road that snakes around the courthouse will really help traffic.

Boyer and Redman have said the best choice is to let the courthouse open next year and give drivers a year or two to get used to the area.

"We really need to get the courthouse finished [and]see what the traffic is," Redman told transportation members.

Boyer told the Finance Committee Tuesday the path for Monroe can be seeded, watered and maintained but left free of any permanent, expensive fixtures in case the city decides the road should be rebuilt.

4. A New Street Undermines Plans For A Pedestrian-Friendly Downtown Environment

A new street would further cut the courthouse entrance off from the publicly funded garage and retail complex built to serve it.

This matter was reviewed and discussed on multiple fronts, i.e.: the DDRB (Downtown Development Review Board), JEDC (Jacksonville Economic and Development Commission), DVI (Downtown Vision, Inc.), all of which either raised serious questions about its function and aesthetics or had outright recommended to not construct a new street.  The one thing every vibrant downtown has in the country is pedestrian-scale connectivity between a mix of uses.  The city has already made the investment in a courthouse garage with street-level retail at the courthouse site.  A huge detriment to such an environment is the introduction of heavy vehicular traffic.  Forcing a new street between the garage and courthouse entrance further severs these supporting uses from the courthouse.  

5. A New Street Could Cost Over $1 Million

The Duval County Courthouse is the definition of fiscal waste.  Spending an extra million on a questionable need would only tie this council to this negative legacy.

Schneider was quizzed about missed opportunities to make the project pedestrian-friendly, for example by marking crosswalk-like areas.

"Right now, there's no special signage or markings" Schneider said. "We could add that. ... It's a good idea."

The road could use "traffic-calming" features that would cost a little more, he said, but they aren't in the design.

On February 16, 2011, Metro Jacksonville mentioned that this new road construction project would cost closer to $1 million or more than the $800,000 set aside by City Hall.  Last week it was revealed that the $800,000 figure does not include pedestrian-friendly features such as crosswalk markings, signals and bollards.  Expect roadway costs to balloon when these expensive, yet critically needed features, are added to the budget.

Does Jacksonville really need a new street between the courthouse steps and this intersection?

With Jacksonville's budget situation, no one will shrivel up and die tonight if potentially $1 million is saved in not building a new street and calling it Monroe.  Voting for Bill 2011-615 saves taxpayer dollars, yet preserves the right-of-way, if a new road is deemed necessary in the future.  If you're on City Council, it's time to do the right thing by voting for Bill 2011-615.

Editorial by Ennis Davis.