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Change Coming To MLK Parkway?

Metro Jacksonville highlights the Florida Department of Transportation's plans to modify access to and from the MLK Parkway at Pearl, Main, and Liberty Streets.

Published November 7, 2012 in Neighborhoods      9 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


In 1945, well before the Interstate Highway System was authorized by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, in collaboration with the Public Roads Administration, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce's Highway launched a survey for what would become the Jacksonville Expressway system.  By October 1947, eighteen miles of limited access highways, bridges over the St. Johns and Trout Rivers, and fourteen miles of arterial highway connections had been proposed.  

Two of the limited access highways proposed were the 20th Street and Haines Street Expressways, which opened for traffic between 1961 and 1962 along with the Mathews Bridge.  Combined, they created a bypass around Jacksonville's congested urban streets for residents traveling between the rapidly growing suburbs of Northwest Jacksonville and Arlington.

The construction of the 20th Street Expressway (MLK Parkway) east of what eventually became Interstate 95 in 1962. Image courtesy of the Florida State Archives.

At the time of their conception, Jacksonville was a compact 30 square mile urban city, characterized by compact housing aligned along a grid based roadway network.  To make room for these highways, blocks of housing between 21st and 19th Streets were acquired and demolished in the neighborhoods of Brentwood and New Springfield.  Due to that compact configuration of streets, expressway interchanges were added at Boulevard, Pearl, Main, and Liberty Streets despite the entire stretch being less than 0.75 miles in length.

In January 1999, City Councilman Terry Fields proposed renaming the Haines Street Expressway and 20th Street Expressway in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.  The two expressways were selected because they go through a predominantly African-American part of the city and also intersect with some of Jacksonville's most heavily traveled roads: Interstate 95 and downtown streets to the Mathews and Hart bridges. In 2000, they officially became known as the MLK Parkway.

Now 51 years of age, the Florida Department of Transportation is proposing to partially remove the on- and off-ramps at Pearl and Liberty Streets to improve safety as a part of a program to rehabilitate the parkway.  In addition to closing on- and off- ramps, the $7.5 million project would include concrete rehabilitation and resurfacing on the ramp system.  Work is anticipated to begin in Summer 2013.

Looking east toward the MLK Parkway/Main Street Interchange.  The Pearl Street on- ramp to MLK Parkway in this image would be removed.

The project's limits, framed by Boulevard Street and the Springfield rail yard, stretch ten city blocks.

Ramps closed would be targeted around the Main Street interchange.

This graphic illustrates the proposed widening of off ramps at Main Street.

As a result of eliminating on- and off- ramps at Pearl and Liberty Streets, on- and off- ramps at Main Street will be widened.  This will transform the remaining ramp infrastructure to serve as frontage roads, still providing vehicular access to Pearl and Liberty Streets from MLK Parkway.

For More Information Contact:

Renee Brinkley, Project Manager
Florida Dept. of Transportation
1109 S. Marion Avenue, MS 2002
Lake City, FL 32025-5874
(386) 961-7392 or (800) 749-2967

Update by Ennis Davis



November 07, 2012, 10:22:05 AM
Agreed that this is a very bad area on the Expressway. People trying to merge off and onto the roadway in such tight space, people in a rush mixing with lumbering trucks climbing the inclines of the expressway trying to connect from Talleyrand to 95 make it extremely dangerous and I am surprised major accidents have not already resulted.  Of course it would be nice if they were able to convert the closed ramps into some sort of open space greenway, hopefully they don't plan to just erect concrete barriers blocking off the ramps.  Also, I wonder if the local businesses at Pearl and Liberty would notice a decline because they lose that direct access that they have enjoyed.  I know the Station restaurant at Pearl and 21st would not be pleased, however safety trumps all in this case I believe.


November 07, 2012, 10:34:40 AM
In the plans shown, they don't really lose access.  The parallel service drives remain.  The only major difference I see is that drivers wanting to access them from MLK will have to stop at the Main Street light.


November 07, 2012, 10:44:34 AM
I personally don't think that MLK Parkway's old school design is a big deal to worry about. I can't recall any significant accidents to deem ramps 'unsafe'. We live in a "modernize everything, even if it's not necessarily broken" society. I been though MLK a billion times, and never had any issues getting off and on Pearl, Main Boulevard etc. If an A-hole is determined to not let you in a merging area, it can happen on I-10 & Chafee, or Pearl & MLK.


November 07, 2012, 12:05:42 PM
21st St. already makes a decent "frontage road".


November 07, 2012, 12:06:59 PM
Don't like the idea.

I am there all the time.  I haven't seen accidents.  What are the numbers?  Is there proof that there is a safety issue?

Swisher uses the Liberty Street access a lot.  Tons of cars will be traveling to Main Street down side roads at 3:30 every day if the Liberty Street ramp closes.


November 07, 2012, 12:43:32 PM
^That would probably be the most significant impact that I can see.  You'd basically force Swisher's trucks and 2,000 employees to drive through neighborhood streets or clog the lights at Main Street by removing them.  Personally, I've never had a problem with the ramps either.  The one old Jax Expressway system ramp I was glad to see go was the I-95/McCoys Creek ramp.  That thing was crazy.


November 07, 2012, 07:59:39 PM
Just wish to see more trees larger than 3" caliper, and a better symbiotic solution worked with/for $wisher, along with perhaps aanotherpedestrian bridge.


November 07, 2012, 08:34:20 PM
Ah, my old neighborhood. Although to this day I dont understand why they never built a full cloverleaf intersection at I-95 & 20th Street, or why the road was built with that God-awful curve between the railroad tracks & Phoenix Ave.

I also dont understand why it wasnt built as a full expressway. 20th Street goes all the way to New Kings Road, however, the expressway part ends at I-95. Guess it was more of Jacksonville doing things on the cheap. (I think I answered my own question)

Bill Hoff

November 08, 2012, 12:22:51 AM
Most of the feedback I've recieved prefers to keep the Liberty Street ramp open especially. Hope this happens.
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