When the Jacksonville Port Authority (JPA) announced in August 2005 that Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. planned to build its only East Coast container terminal in Jacksonville, local officials said the project would lead to an unprecedented development boom in northeast Florida.
As the terminal nears completion with an anticipated opening in early 2009, that prediction is starting to become reality with commercial developers flocking to the area, triggering a number of projects, including warehouses and shipping facilities.
“It’s absolutely huge,” said Chris Kauffmann, senior director of terminal operations and sea port security. “It’s probably the biggest thing that’s happened to Jacksonville. When they’re up and running, it will probably double the containers we’re moving today.”
That boom continued last October when Mayor John Peyton announced an agreement with Hanjin Shipping to build a $360 million, 170-acre (68.8 ha) container terminal that would begin operations in 2011. The port authority is considering the possibility of building a new cruise ship terminal and building the terminal for Hanjin at the site where the existing cruise ship terminal is located.
At the time Rick Ferrin, JPA executive director, said “Jacksonville is well on its way to becoming one of the largest and most successful port cities on the East Coast and the premier logistics and transportation hub in the southeastern United States.”
As the terminal development escalates, local and state transportation officials are hustling to make sure the infrastructure keeps pace with port growth.
In early October, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) started a $45 million project to reconstruct the Interstate 95/I-295/SR 9A interchange near the Jacksonville International Airport.
The project involves constructing a 2,256-ft.-long (688 m) flyover ramp from I-95 southbound to SR 9A eastbound toward the Dames Point Bridge and the beaches. The new ramp will provide easier access for commercial traffic on I-95 going to JPA cargo terminals at Dames Point and Blount Island, including Mitsui.
Also, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority recently announced a $65.5 million project scheduled to start in August that will widen 2 mi. (3.2 km) of Heckscher Drive from August Drive to the future site of the Gate Biofuels terminal from two to four lanes.
In May, FDOT started an $11.8 million project at SR 9A and Heckscher Drive that includes lengthening the southbound deceleration ramp from 9A onto Heckscher Drive by 2,200 ft. (671 m), according to FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman. It also will widen the railroad bridge on 9A southbound and widen parts of Heckscher Drive and New Berlin Road for the installation of turn lanes. The project is scheduled for completion in April, likely coinciding with Mitsui’s opening.
Archer Western Contractors, a subsidiary of The Walsh Group, was the low bidder for the job. Archer Western, a general contracting, construction management and design-build firm, is relatively new to northeast Florida, but has worked on several major projects in the last seven years, including the I-10/I-95 interchange project, a widening project on I-95 from the Trout River to I-295 and a $31.4 million project to widen 1.5 mi. (2.4 km) of U.S. 17, including the Doctors Inlet Bridge.
“This project was added because of terminal activities,” Goldman said. “It’s to facilitate traffic coming to and from the terminals at Blount Island.”
Goldman said even with all the road construction currently under way in the area, FDOT already is looking to the future.
“There’s a traffic study under way in that area and we’re going to start a study this fall that could take about two years to take a look at the whole area,” Goldman said. “It’s a project development and environmental study, which is a feasibility study for long-range port authority improvements. It takes a look at where the terminals are going and takes a look at what we need to do. That study, obviously, is geared for the long-term.”
Sam Joiner, Archer Western’s Florida business group manager and vice president, said the 9A project is a pretty standard road and bridge widening, although “there’s a fairly good bit of storm drain, water and utility work to do with it.”
Joiner said Archer Western will do most of the work itself, but the company did hire Orlando-based Gibson Register to do all the underground work.
“They quoted the most complete package of everything,” Joiner said. “That would take some of our equipment off the job, but we’ll still do all the roadwork and bridge structural work and all the concrete paving.”
Archer Western, which owns all its equipment, will have a pretty standard fleet on site.
“We’ll have concrete placing equipment to go with the concrete work,” Joiner said. “Millers, pavers, rollers, trucks. We’ll use steel headers and concrete belt placing equipment. We do widen a bridge on 9A and pour some fairly large concrete crash walls next to the railroad tracks underneath the bridge.”
Though in the early stages of the project, Joiner said it has already seen a couple of curve balls.
“The underground work markedly changed with a big change order,” Joiner said. “We’ll have to handle some utility conflicts out there [that] the original design did not account for. It’s always something, even on a small job, before you really get started.”
Joiner said the biggest challenge with this project is going to be the schedule, with a goal of having construction complete before or close to the opening of the Mitsui terminal next year.
The time crunch stems from “the fact that this job is being built and predominately funded by the JPA to provide improved access to and from the new terminal and the fact that we just got started — the job was bid Jan. 1,” Joiner said. “The port went to bid with the project without having secured their Corps of Engineers permit for some of the wetlands mitigation, which is not a large part of the project, but large or small, you still have to deal with the Corps of Engineers.”
Though running slightly behind schedule because of the permit and utility issues, Joiner said he believes there’s enough flexibility in the job to catch up quickly.
“The project had no specific milestones of what you build first in terms of opening the ramp,” Joiner said. “But certainly we’ve told the port and FDOT we’ll by all means concentrate on the areas that they need us to first. There is some opportunity to accelerate the off-ramp for southbound 9A traffic exiting at Heckscher and New Berlin Road to provide access to the port site. I think the job offers enough flexibility in the phasing that we can do that.
“We’re going to do what they need first. We’ll get their trucks flowing.”
Joiner said it will have between 30 and 40 workers on site, working day and night shifts. It plans to do most of the concrete work at night.
Since road construction is going to be a way of life for people on Jacksonville’s Northside for many years, some business owners are expressing concern over possible congestion.
Kevin Blocker owns the Best Little Shorehouse in Town on Heckscher Drive. Most of his lunch business comes from port authority employees. He’s worried traffic delays will send them elsewhere.
Joiner said he’s not expecting any major traffic delays or detours, though there may be some nightly lane closures.
“It’s not a traffic pinch point,” Joiner said. “There’s some MOT around that intersection, but it’s not a real heavily traveled residential type intersection. It’s more business and truck traffic.”
When the transportation authority project begins in August, Chief Engineer John Davis said lane closures would take place at night and not during peak traffic times.
Dennis Kelly, regional vice president for the East Coast for TraPac, a Mitsui subsidiary that will manage terminal operations in Jacksonville, is looking forward to opening the 158-acre (64 ha) site at Dames Point.
“We’re pleased with how things are going,” Kelly said. “We’ve had a few hurdles that we’ve had to address and deal with, but overall I think we have a very good plan in place. We’re looking to open by the second quarter of 2009, and no doubt about it, we’ll make that.”
Joiner plans to have the 9A interchange ready for business, too.
“We can only do what we can do, but we’re going to prioritize the work areas and access points to get those ready,” Joiner said. “We’re mobilizing, we’ve got trailers on site, we’re constructing the concrete traffic barrier rail and finalizing our sub agreement. We’re getting ready to bust loose.” CEG
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