State officials believe that Florida will welcome 6 million new residents in the next 15 to 20 years. How big of an impact is that?
“When I was born, here in Florida, there weren’t 6 million people in the entire state,” RS&H Executive Vice President Joe Debs told a room full of state politicians last week. “The impact that this influx will have on our state is going to be significant.”
Debs joined a panel of transportation experts to discuss how the state’s roads and infrastructure must keep pace with growth and technology at the First Coast Delegation Summit held at Jacksonville University. Experts in the transportation, healthcare and education fields briefed Northeast Florida state representatives, senators and officials on trends and obstacles each industry faces in the Sunshine State.
When it comes to transportation, Florida’s current status is one many states look up to. The Florida Department of Transportation is often considered one of the best in the country, Debs said. With the addition of a regional transportation management system in Jacksonville, Northeast Florida may be the best of the best.
Opened in 2015, the Regional Transportation Management Center in Jacksonville houses employees from the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Transportation, and others whose main objective is to work towards safe and efficient travel in the Northeast Florida area. This is the first Transportation Management Center in Florida to co-locate staff across agencies.
“It speaks to a region that cooperates, agencies that cooperates and, in our case, a board regionally that supports these projects moving forward,” said Jeff Sheffield, executive director of the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization. Sheffield joined Debs on the transportation panel, along with Jacksonville Transportation Authority Vice President Brad Thoburn.
To keep up with the growth in Florida’s population, the state has to continue to invest in transportation projects and technology while being mindful of emerging trends like autonomous vehicles, ride sharing services and alternative fuel use.
“Technology is changing our entire process, but that change doesn’t happen overnight,” Sheffield said. “The question is how we work with these new technologies.”
The key will be continued investment, Debs said.
“We’ve never been poised as strong as we are in Northeast Florida to continue to ensure we have mobility and a great quality of life from a transportation standpoint,” he added. “It’s very important that we stay full throttle on these planning initiatives and the funding levels– we have to be ready for this growth.”