It is like a gift that keeps on giving for local commuters — the avalanche of road projects in Jacksonville as well as routes in and out of Clay, St. Johns and Nassau counties that promise traffic relief in the future, but bring the crunch of traffic jams, detours and lane closures right now.


Fifty-two state and local road projects are underway in Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties, with 64 more part of Jacksonville’s 2016-17 fiscal-year budget plan. The state is doing many on major highways and bridges as well as connector roads into suburbs. Jacksonville and the JTA have the rest on many commuter roads.

Northeast Florida is receiving about $1 billion in state construction projects locally, with about $636 million allocated to Duval and another $710 million next year.

St. Johns County is experiencing $32 million in projects this year, more than doubling to $70 million next year. Clay’s share is $36 million this year and $101 million next year, while Nassau’s $84 million in road projects this year drops a bit to $66 million in 2017, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

If it seems like there’s never been so much road construction, that’s right. The Transportation Department said it is the largest work program in recent history, with roughly $1.4 billion under contract districtwide.

“Of this $1.4 billion, more than $1 billion of active construction projects are around the Jacksonville area,” department spokesman Ron Tittle said. “… We continue to have roadway construction to provide increased capacity and improve highway safety, commensurate with the level of funding projected and received.”

Northeast Florida captured anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent of the state funding for road projects, making for record levels of construction, said North Florida Transportation Planning Organization Executive Director Jeff Sheffield. The independent agency works with Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns county officials as well as the state Transportation Department on regional plans.

“You do have a governor who is here quite a bit and he has been favorable to this region,” Sheffield said. “As a region and statewide we have postured Northeast Florida as the gateway to the state. So if you believe in that concept that all traffic flows through Northeast Florida to get to the rest of the state, we have data that will show you from a truck traffic perspective almost 85 percent of the truck traffic is either coming in by I-75, I-10 or I-95.”

Construction fatigue

With multiple stretches of the area’s major interstates and commuter roads flagged with cones, barricades and equipment, many drivers wonder what price comes with this progress.

For example, the widening of the Interstate 295 loop between Baymeadows Road and Gate Parkway also will add new tolled express lanes to speed up commuter flow and handle predicted traffic increase due to development in Jacksonville and St. Johns County. But Twin Lakes Academy Elementary School is right next to part of that project.

The busy road’s noise is already so intrusive that teachers have to use a cowbell to summon students from the kindergarten playground on Point Meadows Drive, about 250 feet from the four-lane roadway’s west edge, said PTA member Abby Howard Murphy. Also a member of the city’s Southeast Citizens Planning Advisory Committee and a school neighbor, she said the state won’t add a sound wall next to the school now or in the future, so how much louder will this piece of progress get at her school?

“The express lanes are all very nice, but you can’t get on or off at Baymeadows, so it is no benefit to our community,” she said. “Plans for 9B currently will stop at Butler and there are no plans or money to widen the road north of Butler, so everything coming south will bottleneck now. … There is no barrier between whatever may be going on the highway, whether it is an accident or anything else. And we are concerned the traffic will get even worse.”

The record number of road projects also causes something called construction fatigue, where some people drive fast in construction zones despite the twists and turns. Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Dylan Bryan said it may be more a case of drivers just not recognizing the dangers inherent in the ever-changing lanes in construction areas and being “immune” to the warning signs. Best advice: People should drive in a responsible fashion so they can recognize the changed traffic patterns in construction zones, he said.

“There are so many projects going on at the same time that people are driving with distractions, violating traffic laws and making hazardous movements,” Bryan said. “The perception of the regular driver is different. They are used to driving on open roadways with sight clearance. Now you incorporate workers and work zones and those narrower lanes and drivers have to be really observant. These changes occur within the construction zones on a daily basis and are creatures of habit.”

Tittle said state road construction impacts are posted at and Twitter @fl511_northeast.

“There are review processes to minimize critical impact to the traveling public, before and during construction,” Tittle said. “Sometimes major projects are within close proximity of each other because of the need to improve those particular corridors within logical time frames so they will be more effective. … We realize construction can become a major inconvenience. We ask for patience through the short-term inconveniences for the long-term solutions to improve safety and congestion.”

There is a process

A check of Florida Department of Transportation projects in Jacksonville at shows 31 projects under construction, five of them focused on different parts of Interstate 95 as well as two more working on parts of Butler Boulevard and another pair on parts of Beach Boulevard. Transportation Department District Secretary Greg Evans calls it a major overhaul of the transportation system in the Jacksonville metropolitan area, part of more than $10 billion allocated statewide for three years in a row to manage growth.

Sheffield said about $1 billion is going to three projects — the First Coast Expressway segment from Blanding Boulevard to the Shands Bridge; I-10 from I-295 into I-95 and downtown, “which is backed up every single morning,” and the southern end of the current Overland Bridge project to Butler.

“In the past we had been able to secure the funding for fixing pieces. Now, when you look at the picture, both ends get fixed and these are middle sections of most of these.” Sheffield said.

The Transportation Department and North Florida Transportation Planning Organization are the agencies that monitor the road needs in the 1,300-square-mile, four-county Northeast Florida area, then plan and develop the projects to handle them, Tittle said.

The Planning Organization takes the lead in recommending and prioritizing non-interstate projects, and the Transportation Department handles those on interstates. When the list is prioritized, the Transportation Department matches available funding and Sheffield’s operation coordinates planning and funding for roads that will serve an estimated 1.4 million residents. The Planning Organization also assembles a Long Range Transportation Plan looking out 20-plus years at transportation projects based on current needs and growth forecasts.

Sheffield said Northeast Florida has been blessed with record levels of road spenging in the past few years, jumping from its usual $400 million to $450 million and to almost $800 million in construction funds alone last year.

“Roads are not in bad shape,” he said. “… It’s not an issue that we are ‘fixing all of that stuff.’ It’s opportunity; it’s a state administration that understands Northeast Florida being that gateway concept. From a port and freight perspective in the state, a big trend over the past several years, it is similarly looking at those ports that are strategic to the state of Florida.”

With massive residential development continuing in northwest St. Johns, northern Clay and southeast Nassau, those areas also are seeing major interstate interchange projects or intra-county toll roads. But Sheffield said those areas were recognized as having growing capacity needs years ago, and those projects were planned ahead.

“In some cases it is going to be a capacity issue. But all those projects have been on the radar for years, so these didn’t come out of the blue,” he said. “… The FDOT has been able to advance all of those projects to be ready for that day funding was available and that’s what’s happened. … A lot of it is our region has their act together. We have agencies that are working well together. The FDOT and us at TPO are hand in hand on working through projects, identifying priorities and being on point.”

Someprojects are massive, like the major interchange redesign at I-95 and Butler Boulevard and the $159.22 million I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement along 2.3 miles in San Marco, both with narrow, winding temporary lanes and constant road closures and detours. Crossing county lines is the First Coast Expressway, some of it to be a toll road that will connect I-10 with I-95 in St. Johns via Clay.

Another project that caused road closures and detours is the almost $78 million final phase of Florida 9B from I-95 in Jacksonville to County Road 2209 in St. Johns. The $78 million widening of Florida A1A in Yulee is set to be done in 2019 but will be soon joined by a new interchange at Florida A1A and I-95. Also to come is the $177 million Interstate 95/Interstate 295 north interchange project that Gov. Rick Scott kicked off Nov. 3.

Drivers also have dealt with rehabilitations of the Hart and Main Street bridges. The city and JTA MobilityWorks have 89 road projects proposed or scheduled. Those include $16.9 million to widen Kernan Boulevard from Atlantic Boulevard to McCormick Road by 2019; $15 million for corridor mobility improvements on 13 major roads; and almost $19 million proposed to widen Collins Road from Shindler Road to Westport Road, and Blanding to Pineverde Lane.

While lots of road construction can be viewed as a headache for commuters, there’s light at the end of a tunnel for current and future business owners in the region, said Alan Mosley, vice president of transportation, energy and logistics at JaxChamber. The former Transportation Department District 2 secretary also was Jacksonville’s chief administrative officer under Mayor John Peyton and is a former director of the city’s Public Works Department.

“I know there are some existing projects that have transportation and congestion issues,” Mosley said. “… We are about to have every expressway in this region in really good shape. We have some construction ahead, but they [business owners] see these these major roads are flowing more freely as the improvements finish that allows for some relief in the local system.”

Dan Scanlan: (904 359-4549