Rethinking the Jacksonville Transportation Center

May 28, 2013 73 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Eight city blocks, five massive new buildings, four stand alone stations, and hundreds of millions of dollars will buy us a dysfunctional transportation center. The alternative is, remodel the Prime Osborn to reflect its original purpose by removing most of a single building, adding pavement and train tracks. For a fraction of the Jacksonvillle Regional Transportation Center (JRTC) planned costs we get eight city blocks of new infill projects, a new convention center and a true multimodal terminal downtown, this is how its done.

Way back in the early 1970's when Amtrak was still in it's infancy, to many it appeared that the railroad industry might not live to see the year 2000. What was clear to the directors of the company was that expenses had to be slashed across the board and with 12 trains serving a station built to handle 250+ daily, one could hear his own footsteps while pondering the expense of supporting this infrastructure and dwindling ticket revenue.

Like Norfolk, Houston, St. Louis and Cincinnati, Jacksonville was destined to get a new downsized station five miles out of town. Soon, these new stations, dubbed 'Amshacks' by the railroaders who worked them, were found to be too small to handle the number of trains or passengers.

Suddenly there was a fuel crisis and deregulation of the railroad industry, leading to an increase in passenger boardings. Some of the Amshacks closed as Amtrak moved back into urban centers. Amtrak became the mode of choice for those who desired to take the time to enjoy smart elegance and sophistication with changing views. The age-old war between buses and rail shifted from competition to cooperation, opening the door to shared terminal space.

Jacksonville began to plan ways to join the trend by moving Amtrak, intercity and intracity buses back to the original railroad station.

In 1975, while the fate of the grand old Jacksonville Terminal was still quite uncertain. Many individuals and businesses attempted to revive the old station. It was during that time that I had the inspiration to sit down and put pen to paper, followed by a scale model.

When the city announced the conversion of the property into the Prime Osborn Convention Center, any dreams we had of boarding trains downtown appeared to be gone. It all seemed impossible after the station became a convention center because much of the infrastructure was ripped out to make room for a mammoth exhibition building. The model and the concept for a Jacksonville intermodal center had been met with an ignominious end...

Now, 30 years later, Jacksonville's grand old terminal/convention center had been deemed too small and outdated to compete. Today, we have a monorail, river taxis, buses and the promise of streetcars, bus rapid transit and commuter rail service. Despite today’s scarce finances, we have a need for both a larger, centrally located convention center and a multimodal transportation center in downtown.

Deja Vu? I reached out, tapping good friend and business partner Ennis Davis, and the Metro Jacksonville partners, and like magic the old plan came to life again, this time on the back of a napkin. Ennis went home with it, and within a day or two he had laid it out in perfect scale, in a digital format.

Once again I ask my city and its citizens to examine a simple and functional plan for Jacksonville's next great station.

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In general, well designed transportation centers offer a variety of mobility options within a single condensed location.  The images within this presentation illustrate several examples of compact transportation centers in the United States. Notice in the photos, the proximity of the railcars and buses, compare this with the dysfunctional (sprawling) JRTC plan.

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Like Jacksonville's proposed transportation center, Salt Lake City's hub serves local buses, Greyhound and Amtrak.  In addition to those modes, it also serves light and commuter rail lines.  Only covering two blocks of land area, all modes share a central terminal, drop-off area, a bus apron and rail platforms. Shared built infrastructure results in a reduced overall cost.  The Salt Lake City hub was built for $50 million.

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Illustrating the expanse of land being permanently removed from the tax rolls, Jacksonville's proposed transportation center is significantly larger than these similar facilities in Orlando, Charlotte, Detroit, Fort Worth, San Jose, St. Louis and Salt Lake City.  Significantly larger, despite having an overall transit network that's miniscule in comparison to all examples shown.

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