Like several state and local transportation agencies around the nation, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is looking to roll out a fleet of autonomous vehicles. However, unlike other entities, the JTA is hoping to meld this new technology with an aging monorail system that needs updating.
Through its Ultimate Urban Circulator Program (U2C), the JTA is looking for a private partner to help it roll out an autonomous vehicle fleet through multiple phases. The JTA will first deploy autonomous vehicles at-grade along Bay Street in downtown Jacksonville, then convert the JTA’s existing elevated Skyway monorail system to accommodate autonomous vehicles and finally expand the autonomous vehicle network to four additional corridors around the city.
The initial at-grade phase – the Bay Street Innovation Corridor – will provide three miles of at-grade autonomous vehicle service from an existing Skyway monorail station to the sports and entertainment district near TIAA Bank Field, which houses the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. As currently envisioned, the autonomous vehicles would utilize one lane on Bay Street and would share that lane with non-autonomous vehicles.
During the second and third phases of the project, the JTA will convert the aging elevated 2.5-mile Skyway monorail system for use by autonomous vehicles. The current Skyway system serves eight stations in downtown Jacksonville. To convert the system, a developer will need to remove the monorail guideway to accommodate the rubber tire autonomous vehicles and create ramps for the new vehicles to tie into the at-grade autonomous vehicle service.
The final phase of the project will extend the autonomous vehicle service from Bay Street and the existing Skyway infrastructure to four additional corridors to the north, west, south and southeast of downtown Jacksonville.
These corridors may include a mix of at-grade and elevated facilities. When fully developed, the U2C program will include roughly 10 miles of autonomous vehicle service.
The JTA is coordinating with both the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) and City of Jacksonville on the U2C program and the JTA has received a $12.5M BUILD grant from the USDOT to help with the first phase of the program.
Request for Information and Industry Forum
In the interest of moving the U2C program forward, the JTA released a Request for Information (RFI) on January 8, 2020 and received 18 responses from a variety of autonomous vehicle and infrastructure experts, including Nossaman. A copy of the RFI can be found here.
The JTA also held an industry forum regarding the program on February 18 and 19, 2020 that included briefings from JTA management, break-out sessions on critical aspects of the program, two autonomous vehicle test rides and one-on-one meetings with firms interested in the program. Some of the materials the JTA provided at the industry forums can be found here.
As made clear in the RFI and the industry forum, the JTA is open to exploring multiple delivery options for the U2C program; ranging from design-bid-build to DBFOM or other forms of concession. As indicated in the industry forum, the JTA is particularly interested incorporating transit-oriented development (TOD) into a DBFOM agreement, with much discussion regarding whether these TOD opportunities could serve as a meaningful source of funding for the program.