JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates a major change by the Florida Department of Transportation that the former head of the agency says was flawed to begin with.
Action News Jax Ben Becker has learned the agency will not build paid express lanes as planned on two parts of a 30-mile stretch of I-95 from International Golf Parkway in St. Johns County to Atlantic Boulevard in Duval County but instead will add free lanes the entire way.
According to FDOT, approximately 100,000 cars travel this portion of I-95 on a given day including drivers like Merritt Burrus who works in construction.
“Being able to go home at a decent time is more important,” says Burrus.
The free lanes FDOT is adding includes a segment between 295 and JTB which was originally not part of the plan.
“Would you say that plan was flawed?” Becker asked Ananth Prasad the former Secretary of Transportation for FDOT from 2011-2015 before the project was proposed.
“That would be a problem yes…” adding “…if I was there, I would be making the same changes.”
An FDOT source tells Becker the Governor’s office is pushing FDOT to move away from tolls and express lanes.
Recently, in June, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate bill 100 that did away with a multi-billion dollar plan to build 330 miles of toll roads on the other side of the state, a plan he originally endorsed just as his predecessor Rick Scott.
Although the local lanes were not part of the Senate bill, Prasad admits the Governor’s office can be influential in decisions by FDOT.
“The FDOT Secretary works for the Governor so they’re not pressure, but a conversation about policy,” says Prasad.
Becker reached out to FDOT about the change, especially about the design that would not have widened I-95 the whole way between IGP and Atlantic
They sent Becker a statement:
I-95 is a critical transportation corridor for Florida that moves a significant amount of people and goods in Florida each year. Understanding its importance, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) routinely seeks to optimize mobility along the corridor, utilizing various strategies.
To that end, the previously planned I-95 Managed Lanes projects between Atlantic Boulevard and International Golf Parkway was reevaluated. FDOT engineers made the determination that congestion management on I-95 could be handled by general purpose lanes. Based on the analysis, FDOT determined the general use lanes would provide a similar reduction in congestion to the managed lanes.
This also presented a cost savings that allowed the department to advance the construction of the segment between I-295 and J. Turner Butler Blvd into our current Five-Year Work Program. This project was previously unfunded.
By changing the scope of the project, previously held studies along the corridor must be updated. Additionally, the new scope will require an additional meeting to solicit feedback from stakeholders and the public. This public meeting has not yet been scheduled; however, the public will be notified in accordance with state law.
Once additional public meetings are held and appropriate feedback is incorporated within the project, the capacity improvements on I-95 between Atlantic Boulevard and International Golf Parkway are expected to begin in fiscal years 2023 and 2025.
As for driver Hailey Jeckovich, her major concern is more lanes could mean more danger
“Do you feel like sometimes you are going
to be run off the road?” Becker asks Jeckovich. “Sometime because people are going way faster than you are.”
Becker reached out to the Governor’s office but didn’t hear back. FDOT says work is expected to begin between 2023 and 2025. It’s unclear how long the work will take or what sections will be constructed first.
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