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All aboard? The idea of a commuter rail connecting Jacksonville to St. Augustine is picking up steam

JTA to make a second presentation to St. Augustine leaders. Duval, St. Johns and St. Augustine would all need to support the project.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla — A commuter rail connecting Jacksonville to St. Augustine has been talked about for years.

This time, it appears the topic is picking up steam.

A leader with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is talking to St. Augustine city leaders Monday night, July 11th, about a commuter rail for the second meeting in a row. 

When you talk about commuter rail on the First Coast, you first have to talk about I-95.

"I-95 is a log jam," Amy Skinner said. She is St. Augustine's Planning and Building Director. 

Jacksonville Transportation Authority Director of Economic Development Richard Clark told St. Augustine City Commissioners in June the interstate between Jacksonville and World Golf Village is slated for more lanes, but after that, expansion of I-95 in the area is maxed-out or limited. 

That’s where the idea of commuter rail comes in.

Skinner said, "It's because we’ve got to come up with something else besides 95."

Clark said, "We see about 40,00 people every day going north into Duval County. What everybody forgets is about 15,00 people are coming south into St. Johns County just to go to work."

Clark told St. Augustine City Commissioners JTA is studying the feasibility of creating a commuter rail connecting Jacksonville to St. Augustine. 

"St. Johns County was #2 in the country for Covid-related moves," Clark said. "So we need to get way ahead of what traffic is coming our way, and the most profound impact we could make is commuter rail."

Skinner said JTA is studying what sites could serve as stops for commuter rail. "They want St. Augustine to be an anchor point, a southern anchor," she noted.

The St. Augustine depot would most likely go on the corner of U.S. 1 and West King Street. The railroad tracks currently run along the edge of the property. Broudy’s Liquors is on a portion of the land. City leaders are considering turning it into a transportation hub.  Just across U.S. 1 from the property is downtown St. Augustine. 

As of right the rail line would run along U.S. 1. Skinner said the four most favorable stops would be the one mentioned above. Moving north, the others would be a stop near Racetrack Road, then near the Avenues Mall, and then in downtown Jacksonville.

Clark said, "I’m saying the real number (cost) is north of $600 million." He added. "Construction is the easiest part. Laying track is a 12-month process. In a perfect world, you could have an operating train in 3 years."

However, the hardest part, according to Clark and a JTA spokesman is getting St. Johns County, Duval County, the City of St. Augustine, and the Florida East Coast Railroad (which owns the land the commuter track would be on) to all be on board. 

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