Logistics Blog | Total Distribution, Inc. in Jacksonville, FL

In early July, Brian Teeples drove from Jacksonville to Tampa – one of Florida’s notorious you-can’t-get-there-directly-from-here treks – for a transportation planning meeting.

Teeples, the Executive Director of the Northeast Florida Regional Council, journeyed westward through the towns of Interlachen on State Road 20 and Waldo on U.S. 301 before taking Interstate 75 southbound to Tampa. “I’m about to be in close company with a lot of friends with 18 wheels,” Teeples said during a telephone interview from his car, noting that about half of the U.S. 301 traffic consists of tractor-trailers.

Fittingly, the topic of the Tampa meeting was relieving Interstate 75 traffic. Teeples represents Northeast Florida on the 21-member Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Interstate 75 Relief Task Force, which has held periodic meetings since December.

Reshaping the Highways & Roadways for Florida Trucks

The task force is charged with presenting FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold with recommendations regarding multimodal transportation solutions that will provide relief on I-75 for passengers and freight, improve travel safety and reliability, increase statewide and regional connectivity and enhance economic development opportunities.

“It’s very well known that there’s no convenient, direct, high-capacity way to get from Jacksonville to Tampa that doesn’t involve going on I-10 all the way to I-75,” Teeples said. Citizens and task force members have varying ideas for creating a Tampa to I-75 corridor, ranging from improving U.S. 301 with toll roads to designating lanes exclusively for commercial trucks. Commuter rail also is being considered by the task force, which is slated to complete its work by October.

When asked why there’s a Northeast Florida representative on the task force, Teeples said he’s learned that in the transportation business, “what happens in one place affects what happens in another place.”

Besides, he said, providing a direct interstate highway route from Tampa to Jacksonville would be beneficial to Northeast Florida and all points in between. There are 5.1 million people and 2.1 million jobs in the 16-county area from Tampa to Jacksonville, and the population is expected to increase by 70 percent by 2060, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The need for a Tampa-to-Jacksonville route was examined in a study initiated by FDOT Florida’s Future Corridors study, a statewide effort that recognizes that freight, business, visitor, community and personal trips depend upon the highway system.

With extensive increases and population, tourism and freight activity expected in the coming decades, the state created Future Corridors to coordinate long-range transportation planning, including improving connectivity within Florida and between Florida and other states.

A Major Driver of the Industry

The I-75 relief study is a prime example of federal, state and local transportation planners’ continual, comprehensive review of challenges and opportunities associated with highway transportation. Indeed, unlike the FDOT of yesteryear, making roadways more efficient for truck drivers by mitigating congestion and the hassle of getting on and off highways is now a huge component of FDOT’s mission.

Florida is a major player in the global economy, ranking seventh in the U.S. for exports. In 2013, Florida exported more than $85 billion in goods, with most of those loads moving on Florida highways. “We are well aware that freight is a major driver of our economy,” said David Fierro, an FDOT senior public information officer.

In its Florida Transportation Plan published in December 2015, the FDOT stated that it aspires to eliminate unnecessary delays moving people or freight on all modes. “FDOT places high priority on efficient and reliable mobility options for both people and freight …” reads the transportation plan. “This includes eliminating delay associated with bottlenecks; crashes and other incidents; and regulatory activities such as permitting, payment, or customs or immigration processing.”

The transportation plan also states that FDOT seeks to accommodate an efficient supply chain enabling raw materials, component parts and final goods to move from farm or factory to distribution center in a reliable, cost effective manner.

How does that happen? For starters, by providing top-of-the-line technologies and methodologies for infrastructure design, construction, maintenance and operations. Also, by coordinating with local governments; developing multimodal hubs to provide access to multiple modes and services; and, by accommodating larger or advanced commercial passenger and freight vehicles. Finally, by developing enhanced transportation corridors that:

  • Incorporate and support emerging technologies such as connected vehicles or alternative fuel sources;
  • Include managed or special use lanes;
  • Enable separation of freight and passenger vehicles, where appropriate, to improve safety and mobility;
  • Enable separation of through and local trips, where appropriate, to improve safety and mobility;
  • Support integration of compatible uses such as utility infrastructure; and,
  • Maximize use of right-of-way by providing flexible or multi-level infrastructure.

A Perfect Example

FDOT’s mission statement speaks to the “mobility of people and goods.” Fierro says the I-295 East Beltway-Heckscher Drive interchange project is “a perfect example of that mission being carried out.”

“The I-295 East interchange project is addressing a logjam at JaxPort where two major seaports and multiple terminals create a high demand for trucks entering and exiting the port to access the interstate system,” he said.

Adding to the mix is a new Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) hub, the latest addition to an already busy nexus for commercial trucking, just east of I-295. The ICTF is the latest addition to an already busy nexus for commercial trucking.

FDOT, JaxPort, CSX Transportation and the City of Jacksonville participated in the $30 million funding for the ICTF, which adds to the 754-acre Blount Island Terminal and 158-acre New Berlin Road Terminal. The two terminals handle more than 1 million container units at the port each year.

The project includes the following key features:

  • Enhancing access to and from the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point;
  • Widening New Berlin Road south of Heckscher Drive;
  • Constructing a new ramp from New Berlin Road at the existing TraPac Cargo Contain er Terminal and new Intermodal Container Transfer Facility to northbound I-295;
  • Constructing new southbound ramps from I-295 with direct access to the TraPac Cargo Container Terminal; and,
  • Adding new retention ponds, expanding existing ponds for drainage and installing new signs and new high-mast lights.

“These improvements will help maintain access on Heckscher Drive and New Berlin Road while accommodating a significant increase in port-related commercial truck traffic,” Fierro said.

TPO: Setting Priorities

Federal taxpayers pay for the bulk of major transportation projects; the federal funds are administered through state departments of transportation. In cities with more than 50,000 people, regional metropolitan planning organizations prioritize the projects after getting input from various governmental organizations and stakeholders. The North Florida Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) is that agency for Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

“We are looking at transportation improvements for the daily commuter as well as looking at it from an economic development perspective,” says longtime TPO Executive Director Jeff Sheffield.

Echoing the FDOT’s sentiment, Sheffield says his agency continually seeks to identify the region’s most critical and immediate freight, logistics and intermodal challenges. Identifying opportunities to improve freight movement is particularly necessary due to the convergence of major interstates, railroads, a seaport and an airport in Jacksonville, he said.

The TPO has undertaken multiple freight logistics plans to study trends and issues, identify needs and develop multimodal solutions. It also has had significant partnerships with JaxPort and with the trucking and freight industry through studies and collaborations with local governments and stakeholders.

“We have seen a significant shift on how we are prioritizing projects,” Sheffield said.

The TPO works arm-in-arm with the Jax Chamber’s Transportation and Logistics Council and Jax Alliance; it is through those agencies and during public hearings that companies, organizations and individual stakeholders can provide input on transportation planning.

Multimodal Projects Galore

The following is a list of additional major transportation projects in progress Northeast Florida:

First Coast Expressway Extension to Beaver Street (U.S. 90). Scheduled for completion in spring 2018, the expressway is being extended north to Beaver Street at a cost of $46 million. The project will reduce congestion at I-10 at Chaffee Road and I-10 at U.S. 301, and provide access to I-10 from regional distribution centers (Publix, Winn-Dixie, etc.) along U.S. 90. The project will also enable better access to the Cecil Commerce Center.

U.S. 301 projects. FDOT is targeting a major chokepoint in the regional trucking network by rebuilding the interchange on U.S. 301 at I-10. The project, expected to be completed by spring 2019, is designed to accommodate increased truck traffic northbound on U.S. 301 and eastbound I-10 movement. The $65 million project comes on the heels of the $67 million widening of U.S. 301 north of Baldwin completed last summer. A Baldwin Bypass project on U.S. 301 is scheduled to start construction in 2017.

A1A Nassau County. FDOT is investing more than $120 million to widen State Road A1A between I-95 and Amelia Island over the next few years. Divided into three phases, the final phase scheduled to start in 2017. A1A is part of Florida’s Strategic Intermodal System because it connects the Port of Fernandina with I-95. The TPO says trucks make up as much as 10 percent of the nearly 40,000 vehicles that travel on that stretch of A1A each day. A1A also serves as a critical hurricane evacuation route for the barrier island residents of Amelia Island and nearby Fernandina Beach.

Managed or express lanes. FDOT has two managed or express lanes under construction on I-295 in the Jacksonville area. The $89.2 million project from the Buckman Bridge to I-95 started construction is targeted for completion by early 2017; the $139 million project from J. Turner Butler Boulevard to State Route 9B is targeted for a spring 2019 completion. The express lanes will provide passenger vehicle drivers a choice to pay a toll to arrive at their destinations in a timelier manner. It is expected that general use lanes will see some relief due to the additional capacity of two new lanes in each direction being made available to commuters.

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