Rethinking the Jacksonville Transportation Center


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.

Published May 28, 2013 in Transportation - MetroJacksonville.com




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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An Alternative Idea & Plan

Illustrating a lack of coordination between public agencies, the $180 million JRTC plan didn't take into account that the convention center is outdated, too small and will be possibly relocated from the site.  Ignoring the convention center issue, the current transportation center plan was literally planned around the existing Prime Osborn.

The result is perhaps the most hideous example of epic fail ever to grace a digital screen. Catastrophic, is the word that befits the position Jacksonville will be in if JTA proceeds to break ground in August on the Greyhound station a few blocks north of the Prime Osborn. In the current plan, all of the modes have their own separate station modules, scattered over many city blocks, divided by boulevards and high speed freeway ramps. This is the antithesis of a properly designed transportation center. In fact, when one factors in the current JTA properties, the several proposed multimodal stations, the Skyway maintenance facility, and future rail yards, the combined size is larger then the Vatican, a sovereign state.

However, Greyhound has already signed a lease with JTA for the new station requiring users to walk seven city blocks from train side via a serpentine elevated pedestrian concourse system. This note of alarm was brought up in several meetings I've had with our various city/state agencies, "How do we get out?" "What to do?" As some of you know, I cut my 'transportation teeth' as a supervisor for Tamiami Trailways (Younger people think Greyhound with red paint), which was purchased by Greyhound. In conversations with Mr. David Leach, CEO of Greyhound Corporation, and other officials, I can tell you that Greyhound would be happy to wait another year or two if it results in a better station and superior location. Greyhound added to our conversations that they have already been waiting for '20 years' and don't plan on waiting another 20. In short, we have a shot at a real and effective transportation center, but we've got to stop talking and start doing.

In the conceptual revision of the JRTC plan, virtually all new buildings are eliminated, along with a significant portion of the existing Prime Osborn exhibition hall. The remaining portion of existing exhibition space would be converted into bus and motor coach space. In a strange quirk of fate, the long east-west concourse that was added on the north side of the convention centers exhibition building nearly duplicated one in that 1975 plan.

By elimination of excess construction we could probably cut the bill for the JRTC in half. The cost savings could then be applied to a new convention center in the downtown core. Without a need for all of the buildings in the JRTC plan, grant matches could easily be made by selling the now vacant eight city blocks to a private developer such as Flagler, All Aboard Florida, Hallmark etc. With the developers buying into the plan we get a new and functional transportation center, a new convention center and infill development in LaVilla. This seems like a win for all.


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Left: The expansive proposed JRTC site plan. If JTA has their way, a $5 million Greyhound terminal would break ground this summer, three blocks north of the existing terminal.
Right: An example of a consolidated design that creates additional land for privately built infill development.


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Slides 11 and 12: Examples of what existing infrastructure and buildings could be repurposed for as opposed to building multiple similar structures on surrounding blocks.

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Land and buildings utilized by existing convention center are highlighted in blue.

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Slides 14 and 15: Transportation Centers should be more than places where passengers transfer between modes.  Today, transit districts are being proposed around intermodal centers across the country.  With multiple city blocks available at our disposal, why not Jacksonville?

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As much as eight publicly owned city blocks bounded by Interstate 95, Adams, Lee, and Bay Streets could be utilized for property tax generating transit oriented development, bringing life to LaVilla in the process.

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Article by Robert "Oklahawaha" Mann


This article can be found at: https://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2013-may-rethinking-the-jacksonville-transportation-center


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