Outer Beltway Dead? Now What?

February 11, 2011 42 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville and Clay County should be thanking their lucky stars that the $1.8 billion Outer Beltway has met its demise. Going forward, here are a few projects worth considering to improve traffic congestion and encourage economic development in Clay County.

Considered Outer Beltway route

1. Invest In Commuter Rail

Emeryville, CA is an example of a suburban community taking advantage of mass transit connectivity to stimulate economic development.

Transportation infrastructure spurs economic development, which was the main reason behind the Outer Beltway concept in the first place.  

Beltway supporters have maintained since 2001 that the proposed project will open new avenues for moving commercial traffic to the Cecil Field area without adding congestion to existing roadways and provide additional capacity across the St. Johns River.
Overall construction will create as many as 35,000 area jobs and stimulate the job markets of Duval and Clay counties, according to information released by the Governor’s Office on Monday.
Clay County Chamber of Commerce’s board chairwoman Theresa Smith was elated at the bill’s signing.

“I’m over the moon,” she said. “We’ve spent years and years trying to get this project up and running.”

Smith said she believes the new beltway will attract new business and industry that would employ county residents, 60 percent of whom now commute to Duval County.

“We have the work base, but we don’t have the businesses,” she said. “We haven’t had the infrastructure” for companies that need convenient interstate access.

 “Now we can ask ourselves [as a county], ‘Who do we want to be?’ rather than ‘Who have we become?Ҕ she said.

Clay County Commissioner Doug Conkey agreed, saying the outer beltway will help bring “high skill, high wage” jobs by enabling the county to compete for companies looking to set up businesses at industrial and medical parks.

“We’ve said along that it’s the engine that will revive economic development,” Conkey said.

Many make the false assumption that commuter rail would only bring economic benefit to urban Jacksonville.  While highway infrastructure stimulates autocentric growth (sprawl), mass transit infrastructure stimulates pedestrian-oriented development (walkable).

With the progressive movement of Central Florida's Sunrail project, the CSX "A" line becomes a viable potential commuter rail corridor between Clay and Duval Counties.  Allowing for mixed-use development to take place within a 1/2-mile radius of transit stations will allow Clay to become an attractive location for better job opportunities.

2. Develop A Grid Road Network

50% of vehicle trips in American metropolitan areas are less than 3 miles. 28% of vehicle trips are less than 1 mile. 65% of trips under 1 mile are now taken by car. These numbers represent vehicle trips that won't be resolved by constructing more limited access long distance arterials.

However, these short trips can be affordably reduced and dispersed by developing a road network that offers better immediate connectivity between adjacent properties and neighborhoods.

3. Traffic Signal Synchronization Program (TSSP)

The synchronization of traffic signals can be a low-cost operational improvement to help facilitate the movement of vehicles along congested arterials.

The typical TSSP project involves upgrading all the traffic signals along a route to keep the signals synchronized, placing vehicle detectors in the pavement to detect the presence of vehicles, coordinating the timing of the signals between successive intersections, and automatically adjusting the traffic signals to facilitate the movement of vehicles through the intersections.

4. Modify Land Use & Zoning Regulations

This small three story building in Orlando's Thornton Park features residential, retail and dining uses, giving residents the option of walking as opposed to relying on automobile transportation for 100% of short trips.

Current land use and zoning regulations along Clay County's major throughfares promote the proliferation of traffic congestion due to their tendency to separate complementing uses.  Allowing the exact opposite, encouraging higher density mixed-use development, reduces auto dependency, roadway congestion, and air pollution by co-locating multiple destinations.  This co-location of multiple destinations reduces roadway congestion by disincentizing the need to make short automobile trips for everyday needs.

5. Bicycle & Pedestrian Improvements

Not every trip needs to be made by car, and having the roads and parking lots jammed with cars limits choices and drives public expense.

Many residents drive to various destinations, even though they live only a few blocks away.  It's not because they can't walk that far or because they are lazy.  It's because the dominant focus on automobile movement has created an environment that hostile to people.

Strengthening the bicycle and pedestrian network connectivity is another low-cost option worth considering to help alleviate the region's congestion related problems.

Article by Ennis Davis