Taking advantage of what we already have

August 13, 2007 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

This presentation outlines Metro Jacksonville's solution for decreasing the cost of JTA's Bus Rapid Transit proposal, while creating an overall mass transit system that works best within our neighborhoods.

Slide 1: JTA's bus rapid transit plan will cost taxpayers an estimated $750 million dollars.  When complete, it will provide rapid bus service from downtown to Wilson Blvd on the Westside, Baymeadows Road on the Southside, Gateway Mall to the north and Regency Mall to the east.


Slide 2: When complete, the system will offer mass transit riders several things we don't currently enjoy today.




Slide 3:  With that said, this is where the proposal falls apart.  First, it won't be fully operational until 2025.  This image captures Blanding Blvd, near Orange Park Mall today.  Imagine this scene in 2025.



Slide 4: While imagining that Blanding scene, don't forget that even in 2025, this bus rapid transit system won't even reach the most congested parts of Blanding.  It also won't reach today's rapidly growing areas like Nocatee, North Jacksonville near the airport, or even the Avenues Mall. 



Slide 5: Blight is another major concern with JTA's bus rapid transit proposal.  Several parts of the system will have to be elevated to cross existing rail lines and major highways.  This means in these areas, BRT will introduce skyway like infrastructure in many neighborhoods bordering the system, such as Avondale, Murray Hill, Arlington and the Northside.



Slide 6: Despite the $750 million dollar investment, the BRT system will still not run on 100% dedicated busways.  In some areas, BRT will still be integrated with regular vehicular traffic.  This means it will still be subject to vehicular gridlock and congestion.



Slide 7:  Many local planners also believe that this bus rapid transit system will spur "Transit Oriented Development" throughout Jacksonville's neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, the history of BRT paints a different picture.  You can't have TOD without good "T".  It's well known that developers are less apt to invest millions in transit oriented development, if the transit system that development is constructed around can pick up and move on the drop of a dime.  BRT's "flexibility" is the primary reason it is an inferior mode of transit if part of your goal in creating a system is to encourage redevelopment along it's path.



Slide 8: JTA's BRT proposal is very damaging for downtown.  Not only does it replace hundreds of parallel parking spaces with lanes that have buses running on them every 90 seconds during peak hours, it also parallel's the $184 million dollar skyway.  By having BRT stops at every skyway station, the system eliminates the need to transfer or use the skyway at all.  So if we are adding up costs, we might as well add the $184 million dollars spent on the skyway to the overall cost of this bus rapid transit system.



Slide 9:  The reality in America is that buses come with a negative stigma.  Just because attempts are made to make a bus look more like a train, you can't trick the people who will use them.  A pig with lipstick is still a nasty dirty pig. 



Slide 10: One of the most damaging parts of the bus rapid transit plan is its total disregard for the Northside, despite its residents making up over 50% of JTA's current ridership.  The Northside route parallels I-95, a highway that was originally constructed by the Jacksonville Expressway Authority which effectively separated blacks from whites in the 1950s.  If it isn't bad enough that the bus rapid route will only further isolate Northside communities from one another, residents also don't live, work or play on I-95. 

In the graphic above, notice the Northside's major employers and destinations highlighted in yellow.  Also notice the red line representing the bus rapid transit plan's route and station locations.  Transit has been used in other communities to bring neighborhoods together and create economic development opportunities in places that have been ignored by their city governments for decades. The north route only succeeds in moving buses quickly from downtown to Gateway Mall.



Slide 11: As said earlier, the bus rapid transit system will cost taxpayers at least $750 million dollars.  Despite the claims that railroad companies are hard to deal with, the plan still involves JTA having to purchase rail right of way to run bus lines near Philips Highway and Roosevelt Blvd.  Spending money on this right-of-way, plus constructing an expressway for buses will easily costs more than potentially negotiating with railroads to purchase or use portions of these double tracked rail lines for mass transit.  By constructing BRT next to existing rail lines, we will miss the opportunity to save millions by using what we already have in place, as well as the chance for a superior mode of transit.



Slide 12: Perhaps the most damaging aspect of JTA's bus rapid transit proposal is its insane costs.  Today, it's estimated to cost a total of $750 million dollars, or $26 million per mile.  Let's not forget we still have 18 years of inflation to go, meaning this system will easily top $1 billion dollars.  With numbers this high, it does not matter what the benefits of bus rapid transit are.  That's all meaningless when the bus system costs just as much (if not more) as traditional light rail.




Slide 13: The Las Vegas Max is a great example of efficient and affordable bus rapid transit.  This system only cost Vegas taxpayers $2 million per mile because it was constructed without purchasing right-of-way or constructing new expressways for buses (called busways by transit planners).



Slide 14: The Pittsburgh West Busway is one of the dedicated busway systems that has been touted by JTA in the past.  This is the type of bus rapid transit that the system here will be based on.  This system's length had to be shortened to five miles because the land acquisition and construction costs got out of hand.  In the end, it cost Pittsburgh taxpayers $55 million dollars per mile.




Slide 15: Metro Jacksonville's solution is an affordable one. We suggest a mass transit system that uses existing rail, where available, and bus rapid transit in areas where rail does not run.  Before we can explain this concept, we must first defeat the argument or perspective that Jacksonville is too spread out and small for rail transit.  According to the US Census Bureau, Jacksonville's density and metropolitan population is already larger than many cities enjoying rail today.



Slide 16: We also must defeat the notion that rail costs more than bus systems.  In any type of transit system the acquisition of land and construction of infrastructure costs the most.  This is the reason JTA's bus rapid transit budget is spiraling out of control.  Several cities have discovered that by using what they already have in place, with new technology, they can get a local rail systems up and running for a fraction of the cost of the dedicated busways.

Austin is currently in the process of creating a 32 mile commuter rail system that will introduce light rail type service.  Because the right-of-way was already owned by the transportation authority, Austin's system will only cost $3.5 million per mile, for a grand total of $112 million.  That's a far cry from the $26 million per mile JTA wants to spend for its 29 mile bus rapid transit system.  Also proving that TOD's are better encouraged by fixed rail transit, Austin's line is already spurring infill development such as the Satillo Lofts, shown above.



Slide 17: The San Diego Sprinter rail system is currently being constructed for $440 million.  Although the transit authority already had ownership of this 22 mile rail line, it cost $20 million per mile because the project involves pulling up all the existing track, raising the grade, and laying down new track infrastructure.  Despite the extra work involved, it's still $6 million dollars cheaper per mile than the bus system that JTA would like to introduce to our streets.



Slide 18: Last but not least is the Ottawa O-Train.  Known as the North American king of BRT, this community put together a pilot rail project for $21 million by using existing rail tying in a university with it's BRT lines and downtown.  All three of these examples are living proof that if you can use existing infrastructure, you can get rail transit up and running at a minimal cost compared to the bloated transportation projects we have become accustomed too.




Slide 19: Because two of JTA's bus rapid transit lines parallel rail corridors, it gives us the opportunity to take advantage of existing infrastructure.  One of those things we can take advantage of is the effect Orlando's commuter rail deal will have on the "A" line, which parallels Roosevelt Blvd.  As a part of the Orlando deal, CSX will relocate a major portion of freight traffic over to the "S" line, which travels through Baldwin. 

Instead of purchasing additional right-of-way and building a bus expressway on the Westside, we should look at the possibility of piggy backing off Orlando's deal and potentially purchasing or leasing a portion of the "A" line, at least from downtown to Orange Park.  If we were able to pull a deal similar to Orlando's, we could potentially save over $100 million by not having to purchase additional rightway and avoiding busway construction on the Southwest corridor.



Slide 20: As shown with the Austin, San Diego, and Ottawa commuter rail systems, rail can become quite affordable when you already own the right-of-way.  From downtown to Gateway Mall, the City of Jacksonville already owns an abandoned rail corridor. If you look at the graphic on the right, you'll also notice that this corridor (green) travels where Northside residents live, work and play, unlike the proposed Northside BRT route (red).



Slide 21: Let's not forget that fixed transit is a better facilitator for quality transit oriented development.  To illustrate the potential of TODs along the S-Line corridor, take a look at this aerial, just east of I-95 and north of Shands Jacksonville.



Slide 22:  Looking at the same aerial, lets break down property ownership.  Everything in yellow is Shands Jacksonville and everything in green is City of Jacksonville property.  The light green line is the city's S-Line rail corridor and the red area is known as the Bloody Block, one of the most crime infested sections of the Northside.  For comparisons sake, we've also highlighted the proposed northern BRT line paralleling I-95.  The sections in blue will be elevated to cross existing interchanges.



Slide 23: Assuming that Shands Jacksonville is successful in its wishes to redevelop the Bloody Block, by implementing a rail line through the area and using the surrounding city owned land, a large scale transit oriented development could replace a largely blighted section of town.  If designed properly, it could also reconnect several neighborhoods, become a front door to Shands Jacksonville and introduce needed affordable housing and retail in the area.  This type of opportunity simply does not exist with the concept of bus rapid transit.



Slide 24: Despite the S-line being the perfect corridor for mass transit, the city plans to convert the corridor into a jogging trail.  Before we completely eliminate the S-line from potential transit use, let's not forget that it is 60', meaning it's wide enough to accommodate rail and a recreational path.  By using the S-line corridor instead of building BRT along I-95, we can save at least $47 million dollars.  This is what we would call.... taking advantage of what we already have.



Slide 25: When it comes to downtown, the skyway already serves it.  Instead of having bus lanes that parallel the system, it should be made to only connect with the skyway's terminal points.  By doing this, riders will be feed into the skyway, thus complimenting the peoplemover's purpose, instead of competing with it for riders.  By eliminating duplicating lines and stops, we also reduce that bloated $750 million dollar cost estimate by at least $25 million dollars.



Slide 26: So in conclusion, it's not as much about bus rapid transit versus rail as it is about taking advantage of things we already have in place. Because three of the bus rapid transit corridors parallel rail lines, JTA also doesn't have to start from scratch.  The only thing that would change along the chosen corridors would be an upgrade from bus technology to rail. 




This detail taken from JTA's Technology Assessment Report for BRT illustrates how elevated portions of bus expressways will grace our landscape.  For a visual view, imagine the skyway, only twice the size to handle two way bus traffic.



This cost estimate sheet was taken from the report as well. When it was released, the overall cost estimate was $580 million.  By taking advantage of the skyway, existing rail lines and the S-line corridor we've highlighted areas in yellow where we would be able to significantly slice the bloated cost estimate of the bus rapid transit proposal.




New Jersey's RiverLine system illustrates how DMU rail vehicles can travel on existing rail, as well as in the streets with cars like traditional light rail systems.  It is Metro Jacksonville's belief from the information gathered over the past few years, that it would be cheaper for us to implement something like this in certain corridors than to build bus rapid transit from scratch.  It is also our belief that something like this is more likely to attract choice riders and stimulate quality transit oriented developments.