JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Acosta Bridge in downtown Jacksonville is known for its colorful displays celebrating holidays like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and even the Jaguars, but the Florida Department of Transportation turned out the lights on at least one event.
Action News Jax first reported in June 2021 that the Jacksonville Transportation Authority was initially ordered by FDOT to pull the plug on rainbow lights celebrating Pride Month, citing a permit violation. FDOT eventually relented under public pressure.
In an Action News Jax investigation, Action News Jax’s Ben Becker uncovered FDOT and JTA could be on another collision course over who decides how the bridge is lit.
Becker spoke with Cindy Watson on the Southbank near the Acosta. Watson is the CEO of Jasmyn, a local group supporting LGBTQ youth.
“I’m hoping it will be simple,” Watson said.
But it’s not.
FDOT controls the Acosta while JTA owns and controls the lighting.
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FDOT said JTA is still violating its lighting permit that requires “broad community interest and significance approved by county or local governments.” for color schemes and is demanding a City Council resolution.
Becker got his hands on internal JTA and FDOT emails.
In November 2021, a FDOT leader said JTA needed a “COJ resolution for future Acosta bridge lighting color schemes.”
in December 2021, a JTA higher-up responded, “I’m told the city’s general counsel has questioned why legislation is needed since they do not require such.”
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Then in March 2022, FDOT shot back an email saying, “There was another instance of a non-approved lighting scheme being displayed over the weekend.”
Blue and yellow lights supporting Ukraine.
“We don’t feel singled out,” JTA CEO Nat Ford said.
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Becker obtained JTA’s proposed Acosta Bridge lighting schedule for fiscal year 2022/23.
It lists 61 events, but, 45 appear to be in violation of JTA’s permit issued by FDOT that only allows nine lighting schemes:
- New Year’s Day
- Valentine’s Day
- St. Patrick’s Day
- Breast Cancer awareness
Ford said JTA’s just being responsive to the community.
“We will work with FDOT to do it in a fashion so everyone is in alignment,” Ford said.
But it’s still of alignment, so Ford asked City Council President Sam Newby to intervene. Newby sent a letter to FDOT that maintains the proposed lighting scheme, even though not on the permit, meets the “approved by county or local governments” criteria and has “broad community support” -- but Ford tells Becker that Newby’s letter was rejected by FDOT, which is resolute that City Council provides a resolution to approve the lighting schedule.
“Would you introduce a resolution?,” Becker asked Newby.
“I would definitely introduce a resolution,” Newby said.
“What do you think the state’s motives are?” asked Becker.
“I can’t really say,” responded Newby.
Becker emailed FDOT for a statement asking if any updates are expected regarding the lighting policy. The agency said in part, “(FDOT) routinely evaluates and updates policies on a variety of issues” and as for the JTA’s lighting scheme the agency said “FDOT respectfully refers you to JTA regarding their current status on lighting schedules.”
As for Watson, she said, “If LGBTQ pride month is removed from the colors, we will feel like we are going backwards and not forwards in terms of supporting and celebrating community diversity.”
Ford tells Becker he hopes for a resolution to be introduced by the next council meeting on May 10 that would satisfy FDOT.
Becker also emailed the City of Jacksonville’s General Counsel as well as Mayor Lenny Curry’s office to ask if they will get involved and neither responded to Becker’s requests for comment.
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