JTA Board votes to keep Skyway

JTA Board votes to keep Skyway

The Jacksonville Skyway, a monorail transit system managed by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, will live to see another day and possibly be expanded.

During its Dec. 10 meeting, the JTA Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept the Skyway subcommittee’s recommendation to continue operating the downtown connector while having staff develop a Skyway Modernization Program, which will include replacing existing vehicles and evaluating future extensions into the adjacent neighborhoods of Brooklyn/Riverside and San Marco as well the sports district near EverBank Field.

The preliminary estimate to replace the vehicles and modernize the infrastructure and operating system is $74 million, which does not include contingency funding or the cost of extensions, said Brad Thoburn, JTA Vice President of Long-Range Planning and System Development. If JTA finally decides to expand the 2.5 mile bi-directional system, it will have to search for additional city, state and federal funding.

The idea for the Skyway was conceived in the early 1970s as a way to address traffic congestion, air quality and parking issues in downtown Jacksonville. It currently provides service through downtown’s inner core and across the river onto the Southbank with eight stations and a 25,000-square foot operations and maintenance facility.

The Skyway operates on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekends during select special events. Currently, the Skyway makes 5,000 trips per day and had 1.32 million trips during the fiscal year of 2015, said Thoburn during the meeting.

The total cost of the original system including planning, design, construction, vehicles and equipment was $185 million. JTA, the City, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration all provided funding for the system.

Skyway_01In early September, JTA chairman Scott McCaleb formed a three-man subcommittee of his board as well as a 15-member advisory group consisting of downtown stakeholders to decide between five options: keep the Skyway as it is by overhauling existing vehicles and infrastructure; keep it as it is but modify the vehicles to be used on the existing system; decommission and tear down the system once it no longer operates safely and replace it with either a streetcar, trolley, bus rapid transit or personal rapid transit system; decommission the system and repurpose it into an elevated bike and pedestrian walkway or extend its routes into the neighboring communities.

Since it was built in the late 1980s, the Skyway system has been heavily criticized as a transportation system “that goes nowhere.” However, when presented with the options of keeping the system as is or decommissioning it and tearing it down, an overwhelming majority of residents responded favorably to retaining the Skyway and expanding its routes to take riders to adjacent communities.

During the JTA Board meeting, Thoburn said JTA had received 1,619 responses to its online survey about the Skyway’s future. Of those responding, 80 percent favored keeping the Skyway and expanding the system. Nine percent preferred repurposing it to an elevated multi-use path. When asked about potential route extensions for the Skyway, 83 percent of respondents supported having it head to the Sports District and Shipyards while 79 percent wanted to see a Brooklyn/Riverside extension and 66 percent favored further connecting the system into San Marco.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Downtown Investment Authority President Aundra Wallace said he was happy with the JTA Board’s decision.

“The Skyway is essential for mobility downtown,” said Wallace, who favored keeping the system. “I live at San Marco Place. I can see the Skyway from my balcony. When it arrives at the station I know I have seven minutes between trains. I can get over to the station in seven minutes and then be at my work at City Hall in less than 15 minutes. It was a plus for me when I relocated here from the Midwest. Living close to the Skyway was a great selling point for me. It has to be great for others.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News
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