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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Matthews Bridge delays cause chaos in Jacksonville's working class community

Jacksonville’s new series of alternative commuter routes began this morning as the FDOT began the planned $12.9 million dollar resurfacing project for the Matthews Bridge. The eastbound lanes are scheduled to be closed for the next 90 days, taking us to the middle of July, and promises to cause major disruptions of traffic patterns throughout the Arlington, Southside and Beaches area for the duration. Once again the working community seems to be ignored while the needs of the NFL & the Jacksonville Jaguars become a focus of concern at their expense. If the chaos exhibited by this first day's massive delays are any indication, the next 89 days aren't going to be pretty. To understand why, let’s try and connect a few dots here.

Anyone who has children of school age knows very well the complicated logistics of family scheduling involved when devising a way to get your child to school on time without interfering with your ability to provide for them. For this complicated dance to work a series of rush hour traffic patterns, work schedules and a juggling act of morning and afternoon drop offs are weaved together to manage family timing needs.

Casual perusal of the Duval County Public School calendar shows us school actually ends for students on May25th. I was somewhat at a loss to understand why this FDOT project did not start until after the last day of school until I examined the just released 2007 schedule for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Call me cynical, but one can’t imagine why working families are not only having their time schedules thrown out of kilter but their budgets compromised as well. At $2.82 cents a gallon it doesn’t take a CPA to figure out that an extra 30 minutes to an hour begins to add up expense wise when one is sitting in a traffic jam where everything comes to a standstill except the gas gauge. Then there is the question of a parent or custodian not being able to make it home on time to prepare for evening routines assuming of course their child has been picked up in a timely manner.

But woe be unto the FDOT and the Jacksonville city government to disrupt a preseason schedule for a professional sports franchise where rumblings of the team relocating has just been introduced into the lexicon of media discourse the past couple of months. The scope of this post doesn’t cover what surly must be arm waving of Jaguar higher ups over revenue already lost over a new name for the old Gator Bowl. But compound that with concern about franchise revenue expectations that might become untenable in this media market and you have a recipe ripe for further extortion by the NFL with threats of departure to greener pastures unless the city ante’s up to make up the difference in expected profit margins.

The current estimate of 90 days needed for the project to alter traffic routes takes us to July 17th. Delaying the project to start on May 28th, the Monday after the last day of school, 90 days later would fall on August 25th. Only the two pre-season games on August 18th and possibly August 30th [which more than likey would be inside a window for delays in construction]
would be disrupted under this scenario. No matter how practical that sounds, I’m sure the NFL would never settle for that. At the risk of upsetting NFL management sensibilities, why not just make the available lanes during construction westbound in the morning and eastbound in the evening to keep traffic congestion at a minimum? Now really, how complicated could it be?

If nothing else this whole exercise only serves to reinforce the image of a city government groveling at the feet of the NFL while the needs of the working community are pushed aside. Not only that, why go to all this trouble when studies for a new bridge have already been done proposing new construction, on the order of $700 million dollars, along side the old one with eight lanes?

Once again, the needs of the Jacksonville working community and it's families are being ignored. Catering to special interests is usually symptomatic of one party dominance and this is no exception. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my worksheet is complete and my dots all connect up. What a surprise.

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