Residents of Clay County in Northeast Florida have a lot to like about their homeland. Close enough to commute to Jacksonville and St. Augustine, the county borders the St. Johns River, making it a haven for outdoor activities. The communities are safe and friendly, and the county’s schools are among the state’s best – exactly what families are looking for in order to thrive.
But, with three out of four employed residents heading outside the county for work, traffic congestion is one of the few problems at the front of everyone’s minds. With more than 200,000 residents, Clay is the largest county in Florida without an expressway system passing through it.
That fact is changing. The First Coast Expressway aims to alleviate traffic jams and increase mobility across Florida’s First Coast.
“It’s all coming together,” said Florida Department of Transportation Senior Project Manager Amy Williams, P.E. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Three Counties, One Expressway
The idea of an outer corridor stretching from Interstate 10 to Interstate 95 has roots dating back more than 30 years, said CJ Youmans, P.E., CFM, a senior transportation engineer for RS&H and the project manager. RS&H is the Owner’s Representative for FDOT.
“It’s a longstanding idea, although the details have changed a bit over the years,” Youmans said. “We’ve worked with the communities and landowners to find the right alignment.”
The $1.8 billion First Coast Expressway is a multi-lane, limited access toll road that, once completed, will cross parts of Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties in Northeast Florida and stretch from Interstate 10 to Interstate 95.
This large-scale, 46-mile greenfield project serves two primary functions: providing a critical emergency evacuation route that is much needed in the area and creating an essential economic driver for undeveloped rural portions of the region.
The $208 million Northwestern, first segment of the Expressway in Duval County was opened to motorists earlier this year, while construction on two of the remaining four segments is underway. RS&H led the design of these two design-bid-build projects located in Clay County, totaling 22 miles in length and funded at approximately $507 million.
Safe and efficient mobility, economic prosperity, and critical hurricane evacuation routes are severely needed across the state. And with the successful delivery of this corridor, First Coast Expressway serves as the blueprint for future corridors throughout Florida.
More Work Ahead
The remaining two segments to the east are currently in the preliminary engineering phase. One of these segments is a new crossing over the St. Johns River to replace the two-lane Shands Bridge. The new, four-lane bridge will increase vertical clearance to 65 feet from the current 45 feet to accommodate additional marine traffic. The new bridge and the final run to I-95 are on schedule to be funded for construction in 2023.
“There have been a lot of challenges, several of which have involved securing the right-of-way for such an extensive corridor,” Williams said. “We are very close to getting some of the final key right-of-way agreements in place.”
Ready to make an impact
The route will be important not only for daily commuters but also critically important during times of hurricane evacuation. City leaders, business owners and first responders have all heralded the project.
“It’s big for economic development, and big for improving the quality of life across the region,” Youmans said. “The First Coast Expressway is going to change lives.”
RS&H is in its 12th year serving FDOT on the Expressway – and with the first segment now open, the First Coast Expressway is already making an impact on Northeast Florida.
“It’s been a long time coming, and we still have plenty of work to do,” Youmans said. “But change is coming, and it’s for the better.”