First, a very brief history: The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) began as the Jacksonville Expressway Authority (the original JEA) in 1955. In 1971, the expressway authority took over Jacksonvilles failing private bus operations and became a true multi-modal transportation entity. In 1988, voters passed a half-cent sales tax, which allowed JTA to remove the citys existing tolls. In 2000, JTA entered into an interlocal agreement with the City of Jacksonville to implement key road and bridge projects of the Better Jacksonville Plan (BJP).
Last year, JTA began to seriously contemplate its future in a post-BJP era and adjust to the needs of the community - as we have throughout our history. As a multi-modal agency, JTA can work towards enhanced community mobility rather than simply trying to justify investments in a singular mode of focus.
Thus, we began updating the JTAs Five-Year Strategic Plan consistent with our evolving mission. This update combines the Five-Year Strategic Plan with an agency Vision/Positioning Statement, our annual budget and work plan, and an Annual Performance report. Combined, these make up what we call the JTA Consolidated Plan that aligns our long-term vision, mid-range strategic plan and annual work plan, and provides feedback on our progress towards the agencys goals. A draft of the Executive Summary (with revised Vision, Mission, Goals and Core Values), Vision/Positioning Statement and Five-Year Strategic plan can be found online at www.jtafla.com.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
JTAs Consolidated Plan has been developed in the context of key challenges and opportunities we face as an agency and a community. These challenges include refining the agencys role, economic competitiveness, sustainable funding, community characteristics and public policy context.
Refining the Agency Role
Jacksonvilles growth has spread from the urban core to the suburbs and beyond. A dispersion of population and employment away from downtown lengthens commutes, places greater demands on our roads, impacts our air quality, and challenges the delivery of public mass transit.
In the future, roadway solutions will be more difficult and costly, and the imperative for stronger and more reliable public transit options will grow. Despite this increasing focus on transit options, we cannot simply abandon roadway capacity improvements in the future. And we must plan for them together, not simply aim to find a balance between roads and public transit.
The transportation sector is a key player in the regions economic recovery and long-term economic competitiveness. JTAs transportation investments connect workers with employers, enhance the movement of freight and serve as catalysts for growth and development. JTA investments can support the movement of goods to, from and through our port, support and strengthen Downtown Jacksonville, and help attract college-educated 25 to 34 year-old professionals who tend to be drawn to vibrant, transit supportive urban areas and neighborhoods near the urban core.
Planning for, and delivering, essential transportation projects and transit services requires long-term financial stability. Like our nation as a whole, JTA faces significant challenges in funding our transportation needs. Fortunately, JTA has made the best of the dedicated funding sources for building roads and bridges and operating mass transit. However, the funding sources face severe constraints in the near future the most significant of which is the expiration of the local option gas tax in 2016. The gas tax currently provides approximately $28 million in annual revenues and its absence will substantially affect the level of transportation investment and services JTA can deliver to the community.
The growth in regional population combined with the changing desires and demands of Generation Y (also commonly referred to as Millennials or Echo Boomers) and their aging, baby-boomer parents will ultimately impact the planning, design, and development of JTAs future initiatives and services.
As we plan for the future, we must ask ourselves several key questions: How can we better coordinate with our regional partners to deliver regional transit options? How will we serve an increasing number of seniors who will be demanding more transportation choices while living in areas not easily served by transit? How can JTA be part of attracting a younger, less auto-centric generation that is looking to locate in active urban areas?
Public Policy Context
Fiscal, energy and environmental policy at the federal, state and local level will shape transportation policy.
Governments at all levels must deal with the reality of reduced revenues and, in many cases, substantial debt. There is a strong public demand for reducing overall expenditures and gaining control of public debt obligations.
There will also be an increased focus on reducing dependence on foreign oil and minimizing environmental impacts from the transportation sector. This will affect revenue available for transportation investments; state and federal funding priorities; the need to increase coordination between land use and transportation planning; and the fuel efficiency and emissions from transit fleets. It will also affect the level of investment needed for effective transit systems in urban areas to achieve national policy goals.
CONTINUING A MULTI-MODAL FOCUS
As JTA increases the emphasis on transit and deals with the reality of post-BJP financial constraints, the focus and vision for the JTA Engineering Department has adjusted accordingly. JTA will continue to advance strategic roadway investments to project readiness and secure discretionary funding and partnership opportunities with FDOT and USDOT. Focus will be placed on projects aimed at alleviating bottlenecks, improving airport/seaport access and freight mobility, and smaller scale roadway enhancements to support and integrate transit with the pedestrian environment. Additionally, the JTA Engineering function will support JTAs Mass Transit and Strategic Planning departments through the development of projects such as Bus Rapid Transit and future commuter rail. Lastly, JTA will work to identify future needs and then develop and prioritize critical transportation improvements to address those needs.
DEVELOPING A FIRST TIER TRANSIT SYSTEM
Riders on JTAs mass transit system take almost one million trips per month. JTA delivers people to and from work and provides access to medical services, retail, education and recreation and entertainment throughout the community.
JTA must effectively serve its existing base while attracting and retaining choice riders. This requires operational excellence including improving on-time service and increasing service frequency on heavily travelled corridors; keeping buses clean, safe and well-maintained; improving transit accessibility with pedestrian improvements and new shelters along high frequency transit corridors; and providing better, more timely and easily accessible information about JTA services.
JTA will continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the bus system by reducing route duplication, eliminating lower performing routes and focusing resources on the higher-demand corridors - while utilizing vehicles more efficiently. This includes deploying smaller, neighborhood-focused, flexible-route Community Shuttle vehicles to replace larger 40-foot, fixed-route buses in areas with lower demand that require more flexible services; improving coordination between paratransit services and community shuttles and fixed routes; integrating more routes into the Skyway; and implementing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
In order to better serve more people, JTA is pursuing several key initiatives aimed at developing a more robust and integrated transit system. These include BRT; regional commuter rail; the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center Regional; regional Park-and-Ride facilities; transit oriented development (TOD) planning and the Regional Transportation Study Commission.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
JTA is developing a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that includes four corridors (North, Southeast, East and Southwest) connected to a downtown BRT core component. The BRT will provide enhanced service with increased frequency, enhanced stations, branded buses, segments of dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority and possibly queue jumps at selected intersections.
With fewer stops and more frequent service, the BRT will serve as a critical new element of JTAs transit system - by providing a premium service on more heavily-traveled corridors that enables customers to move efficiently throughout the city.
Implementation of the system is underway, and the North Corridor will be operational by the end of 2013. JTA envisions completing the four initial corridors of the BRT system by 2016.
Commuter Rail Planning
JTA is exploring the potential for commuter rail in Northeast Florida. A Commuter Rail Feasibility Study (2009) identified and evaluated seven potential corridors. After the initial review, three preferred candidate corridors were identified for additional analysis: a Southeast Corridor from Downtown Jacksonville to St. Augustine; a Southwest Corridor from Downtown Jacksonville to Green Cove Springs; and a North Corridor from Downtown Jacksonville to Yulee. By utilizing existing freight rail right of way, commuter rail is a promising opportunity to provide regional transit service. The next phase of the commuter rail planning will provide information needed to make the case and secure federal funding for a commuter rail system.
Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center
The Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center (JRTC) project will integrate multiple facilities and improve access to Jacksonville's public transit network. The JRTC proposes to connect local bus, intercity bus, Amtrak, commuter rail, Skyway, and bicycle and pedestrian amenities. The JRTC will be implemented in a phased approach to take advantage of funding opportunities from multiple sources. The JTA has worked diligently to secure state and local funding, acquire needed properties, and apply for newly available discretionary funding programs. Plans for a new intercity bus facility are moving forward and JTA is working with various partners to make the relocation of Amtrak to Downtown a high priority.
Regional Park and Ride Development
A number of projects are underway to enhance Park and Ride facilities and provide commuters access to current and future JTA express buses and BRT. A Clay County Park and Ride lot is now under construction; the Baldwin Park-and-Ride is entering design; a BRT North Corridor Park and Ride is planned and Park and Ride facilities are incorporated in the Southeast BRT plans. JTA is exploring other opportunities for Park and Ride lots to support future regional transit services.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Planning
JTA is developing strategies to promote compact, mixed-use development adjacent to existing and future transit facilities. A comprehensive TOD program will include recommended strategies such as criteria for transit accessibility, compatible land uses, density bonuses, parking, pedestrian and bicycle features, development standards, and concurrency incentives that can be incorporated into local land development regulations and the citys Comprehensive Plan policies. The program will also examine improved coordination with local and regional planning agencies to foster TOD, where appropriate, in the land development approval processes.
A TOD station-area master planning process is currently underway for the San Marco and Southbank area. This will provide a template for future TODs around transit stations.
Regional Transportation Study Commission
Senate Bill 2470 (passed by the Florida Legislature in 2010) established the North Florida Regional Transportation Study Commission (Commission). The Commissions final report must be submitted by December 31, 2012.
While the RTSC effort has a multi-modal focus, there is a strong interest in regional transit planning. As the Northeast Florida region expands, the demand for regional transit will, too. The RTSC is an important effort to begin planning for regional transit services and coordination.
As previously noted, JTAs Consolidated Plan includes much more than the agencys strategic Initiatives. It is a roadmap for the future of the Agency and we appreciate your input. You can view the full plan online at www.jtafla.com or you can join us on July 26th at the Prime Osborn Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m. to learn about specific projects and speak directly with JTA staff.
MetroJacksonville is home to some of JTAs fiercest critics, but it is also home to people (many who are professional planners) who share our desire for and understand the importance of JTAs role in a vibrant and growing city. We hope you will join us on July 26.
Article by Brad Thoburn, JTA Director of Strategic Planning and Research