A brief summary of Councilwoman Glorious Johnson's meeting with JTA and various representatives of concerned residents, regarding bus rapid transit's impact on our community.
S-Line Right-of-way (Northside)
Metro Jacksonville's hope is to get our leaders to outright eliminate the planned Bus Rapid Transit north corridor and substitute it with the city owned S-Line rail corridor.
1. The City of Jacksonville will begin construction of this $1.2 million dollar bicycle path in six weeks. The first phase will be constructed from Myrtle Avenue to Broad Street in Springfield.
2. As predicted by Metro Jacksonville over a year ago, those plans include building the jogging path dead smack in the middle of the S-Line ROW.
3. JTA claims that the reason they never studied the S-Line as a part of the North corridor for RTS is because the City of Jacksonville won't give them the land.
4. JTA claims that despite the fact no one lives on I-95, it's the fastest way to move buses from downtown to Gateway Mall. While we agree, good transit planning is not always about what's the fastest way to move buses. What's the point in having a direct route, if it doesn't directly serve the population they are counting on to ride it?
5. The Parks & Recreation Department pointed out that out of 5 miles of city owned S-Line right-of-way, a school has been built on a three block portion of it, meaning it would be difficult to use it for transit. However, they failed to mentioned the Norfolk Southern rail corridor, a block to the North, that would allow a mass transit system to get around this minor issue.
CSX "A" Line (Westside)
1. BRT's SW busway parallels the CSX "A" Line and Roosevelt Blvd. for it's entire length. This is the same rail line that will see a huge reduction in freight traffic, due to Orlando's commuter rail deal which shifts freight on the "A" line over to the "S" Line, which travels through Baldwin.
2. Despite the Orlando deal, giving us the opportunity to possibly purchase a section of well maintained double tracked rail and combine it with the S-Line ROW for a decent starter line, JTA is still under the assumption that its easier to spend $100's of millions more for a parallel busway that will be operational in 20 years, than negotiate with CSX for a portion of the existing "A" Line.
3. JTA specifically stated that the only elevated portion of the BRT plan would be through Arlington to Regency Mall. However, this is not true. The last time we checked, bridges are elevated and a lot of them will be needed if these dedicated busways are going to be designed to bypass major highways and rail lines. A good portion of the "elevated" bridges will be constructed on this Southwest line, as well as the North line.
Integrating BRT with Rail (Metro Jacksonville's suggestion)
1. One thing to remember, Metro Jacksonville's opinion about BRT is not an argument between the benefits of rail and bus transit. Everyone already knows which one is superior and attracts the most riders. Nevertheless, both have their place in our mass transit network. With that said, we also believe that spending $750 million, or 26 million per mile for busways is way too much to be paying for any form of transit with buses as the primary vehicle. At that cost, any benefit a bus brings to the table has been rendered null and void.
2. While JTA does plan to conduct a commuter rail feasibility, they view commuter rail as serving a completely different market than bus rapid transit. Thus they plan to spend an insane amount of money constructing two parallel systems. Just like a man can't live on bread alone, a decent and efficient mass transit network needs to rely on more than buses. By integrating Diesel Multiple Unit trains with bus rapid transit, we can serve both transportation segments without building competing parallel lines.
3. JTA believes it will take longer than 20 years (the time it will take to construct busways) to negotiate with CSX for the "A" line. This is the same line it took Orlando, less than five to work out a plan. We're not asking anyone to reinvent the wheel. Several cities have successfully made deals with railroad operators. Let's follow their example before saying it's too hard to be done.
4. Our overall suggestion is we can reduce the $750 million price tag and 20 year implementation time by taking advantage of what we already have. That means, at least making a serious attempt to use as many of the existing rail lines as possible, for a starter rail system, instead of spending many millions more to buy un-needed right-of-way and material for parallel busways. Doing such would allow JTA to then apply the saved funds to different areas of our transportation network, like upgrading our aging infrastructure to avoid the type of event that went down in Minneapolis.
Conclusion (What's next)
1. Everything remains the same. The S-Line will be converted into a jogging path and JTA plans to move forward with the I-95 busway first, after it rips apart downtown. Nevertheless, the education of negative concerns that for years have been blown over continues on a public level. At the end of the day, a loud cry from the general public will be the main thing needed to save this community from burning what will end up being over a billion taxpayer dollars on buses.
NEXT WEEK: The Metro Jacksonville power point presentation from the meeting.