JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As a requirement for the Hart Bridge Expressway project, the Florida Department of Transportation held an open forum Thursday night. It brought in crowds of people for two hours straight.
Denise Scott was one of those people at the forum. She had hoped to express her concerns to the mayor’s office at the forum but when she called the city they had little information to give her and directed her to Florida Department of Transportation for details on the meeting.
"It felt a little shady, undercover, maybe I’m taking it the wrong way, but I feel like we don’t have full disclosure," Scott said. "I mean, it’s already done, so what’s the purpose of this meeting? Someone from there should’ve been here, like the mayor, since this is his project, his baby."
Instead, John Pappas, Public Works director for the City of Jacksonville, was peppered with questions, answering on behalf of the city.
"Am I concerned about what I heard? No, what I want to do is take what we heard and address that as we move forward," Pappas said.
Pappas describes the expressway as a wall blocking "our greatest asset", the St. Johns Riverfront.
The project is expected to begin in 2020. It would demolish the expressway and instead route drivers off the Hart Bridge directly onto Gator Bowl Boulevard.
Project designers and contractors argue it paves the way for development. Others, like Byron Smith, say it paves the way for congestion.
"This is a special interest item, this was not for the sake of the constituents," Smith said. "This is not a dictatorship."
Smith says without the expressway he foresees a traffic nightmare, especially during events and games.
"First responder vehicles you cannot get through the crowd, but with the expressway, you can get up and around in two minutes," he said.
Mark Stevenson also came to the open forum. He calls it “a pipe dream for the elite community”.
"I feel like this is Curry and Khan’s con against the city," Stevenson said.
Councilman Scott Wilson wasn’t a proponent of the project, but he says he wants to at least work to alleviate the negative impacts.
City Council voted unanimously to support the funding of the project. He says he knew it would pass with or without his vote and that's why he says he supported it. It's not in his district, but he came to the meeting to speak with constituents.
"Once it’s complete I don’t think it will be as bad as people think, but during the construction phase is what I’m really, really worried about," Wilson said.
Construction is expected to take ten months.
The expressway, built in the 1960s, hasn’t been deemed dangerous, but rather “functionally obsolete”, according to the project's designer.
He says it's lacking in safety guard rails and has no room for cars to pull over for safety. He believes its maintenance is costly, and along with others at the forum, he says the demolish is inevitable.
People can still express their opinion by mailing or emailing comments to FDOT or to the city.