It’s hard for companies to set up shop or grow their businesses in an area without sizable transportation infrastructure, said regional businesspeople who support a Westside toll road.
Construction on the First Coast Outer Beltway project is scheduled to start in March 2013. The new four-lane road would add a new freight corridor and spur economic activity, said Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. Tolls will be needed to pay for the road.
The business community recently voiced its support for the western beltway that would eventually connect Interstate 10 with Interstate 95, saying it would relieve congestion and add countless jobs in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties.
Economy needs road
Virginia Hall, president of Hall Properties, based in Green Cove Springs, has several properties in Clay County. Without this road, she said, the local economy will suffer.
“The biggest impediment we hear over and over again is there are no transportation links, no interstate of any kind for manufacturers, for any industry that we try to bring to our area,” Hall said at the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization board of directors meeting Aug. 23. “And we need this for our economy.”
The total project will cost $1.8 billion to complete. The state has already invested about $170 million and it will cost about $230 million more just to complete the first section.
St. Vincent’s HealthCare took “a major leap of faith” in 2005 when it decided to build a $100 million, 64-bed hospital at the intersection of State Roads 23 and 21, said David Meyer, system vice president of planning and strategic marketing.
The first segment of the First Coast Outer Beltway project, known as the Toll 23/Brannan-Field Chaffee phase, runs 15 miles from Interstate 10 to State Road 21. It would significantly relieve traffic congestion, increase the emergency response time to the hospital and would support the company’s future growth plans, Meyer said.
“The Outer Beltway project will absolutely prove to be the most strategic investment in the history of Clay County,” he said. The hospital is “the largest capital investment being made right now in Clay County.”
When completed, the hospital will inject a $50 million to $75 million economic impact into the area, Meyer said. It’s under construction and was designed to expand to allow 225 beds if the demand is there.
John Metcalf, an attorney with the Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart PA law firm, represents land developer AFI Associates Inc., which owns land in St. Johns County. The company, an affiliate of The Hutson Cos. based in Jacksonville, expects to benefit once the second phase of the Outer Beltway project is completed.
That segment, referred to as the St. Johns River Crossing, is 31.5 miles and would run from State Road 21 to Interstate 95. The new infrastructure would run through OakLeaf Plantation and SilverLeaf Plantation, which are master-planned communities with commercial and residential property. There is no construction money at this point to fund the second phase of the road.
The road “increases the value of the land,” Metcalf said. “My client can be patient.”
The Florida Turnpike Enterprise will finance the project by issuing bonds that will be repaid by toll revenue, Prasad said.
Mayor’s alternate votes yes
The TPO board of directors approved the resolution of support unanimously at its Aug. 23 meeting. City Councilman Doyle Carter, who was an alternate sitting in for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, voted yes.
Brown is still against tolls, but Carter, who represents the Westside of Jacksonville and Cecil Field, said he wasn’t advised by the mayor’s office how to vote.
“He knew I represented the Westside people,” Carter said. “He knew that when he put me as alternate. He gave me the leeway of taking care of what I was voted to do.”