30 December, 2007

Completed Skyway for $150 Million? What's Missing Here?

The Evil Incomplete Skyway To Nowhere

As I've said more then once, I was the worst enemy of the Skyway before it's construction. Long hard hours were spent with the Jacksonville Journal Editors, Television, Times-Union and City Hall. Then as now, I was encouraging the development of Light Rail in Jacksonville. We could have built 30 miles of Light Rail for what the Skyway cost back in the 1980's. But keep in mind the Skyway was a "Free Gift," from Uncle Sam's UMTA. I was never intended to be more then a downtown distributor, a horizontal elevator if you will. Somewhere either Uncle or JTA got way off track and talk started flying about it becoming a regional mass transit. It wasn't even a monorail, but more like an airport shuttle car. By the year 2,000, Detroit and Miami, had completed their "Gift" systems. Our own was mired in 30 feet of muck. The preservation districts raised holy hell about it coming their way. No agency was going to blow this giant elevated "thing" through Confederate Park, on the way to Shand's Hospital. When the new Acosta Bridge came about the City received grants to lay the Skyway over the center of it. Once again the pulse quickened, "if it just reaches Southbank, it WILL work..." we even took a step toward making it more regional by conversion of the whole thing to true Monorail. At this point the Federal Government pulled the plug, and the new FTA or Federal Transit Administration issued a statement on ABC news that "We have NEVER supported it..." Uh Huh? UMTA supported it and funded it, simply change the agency name in Washington DC and disclaim Jacksonville? As you can see it's failures were not all JTA's fault.

Somewhere along the road, JTA and my own train must have passed going in different directions.

Today, the from the Transportation Authority to the Mayors Office, mention the "Skyway" and red faces and shushing gestures with single fingers sprout all over the room. One aide recently told me, "It's DEAD, forget it, it will NEVER happen..." This from a failed system that was touted by our experts to carry 56,000 persons a day? This from the same experts that pulled the plug on the beast when it hadn't reached any of it's stated terminals? This from the State Agency that dumped a truck load of historic Traction Company files, photos and artifacts in the Northside landfill? Why the sudden cold feet? Does the 1,500 daily riders from no-where to no-where make us think it would stay that way if it actually went someplace? I would hope professional logic would say we can do better.

I took the liberty of "shopping" for our Skyway. Talking with the Monorail Society and looking at some equipment to make the trains bigger, and the track and buildings less costly. I figured the following system extensions into my plan:

  • A. 14,063 feet from Hogan and Bay, to Bay and Randolph, to Randolph and Arlington Expy.
  • B. 5,252 feet from Kings Avenue to Atlantic Blvd at the West Side of the FEC tracks.
  • C. 9,057 feet from Brooklyn Maintenance South to Roselle, West to come in behind Francis Lytle
  • D. 3,258 feet from the Prime Osbourne, looping behind the facility and coming back up alongside the railroad platforms South of the Station and West of Park St.

Total system additions (5.9 Mi) was right at 6 miles. Based on a high bid of $25 Million a mile
the total cost for new track and stations would be about $150 Million. If the costs were closer to $10 Million a mile, then only $60 Million would be needed to complete the system. Considering that the project would qualify for 50% federal funds plus other grants, we would have a small investment in it's expansion. What is very curious indeed is the cost numbers of hundreds of millions of dollars to do the least of these extensions... I want to know why? It's not just logic, but the numbers on the graph speak volumes. Time to re-think the Skyway and get-R-done.

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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