For several decades, commercial and residential developers looked at Jacksonville’s Northside as a stepchild to booming areas south and east of the city.
In recent years, developers enticed by the prospect of cheaper land have returned to the Northside with a variety of projects, including River City Marketplace, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. East Coast terminal at Dames Point and several residential housing projects, sparking demand for numerous road improvement projects.
In early October, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) started the latest — 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 Jacksonville Port Authority (JPA) cargo terminals at Dames Point and Blount Island, including Mitsui, which is scheduled to open in December 2008. It also will ease traffic concerns for vacationers using the cruise terminal on Blount Island.
The project also involves adding interchange lighting and constructing a new ground level ramp from I-95 northbound to SR 9A eastbound.
Superior Construction Co. was the low bidder and is the contractor for the project. Founded in Gary, Ind., in 1938, Superior opened a division office in Jacksonville in 1987. Since that time, Superior has established itself as one of the leading road and bridge contractors in Northeast Florida, completing dozens of projects for FDOT, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Jacksonville Port Authority and the city of Jacksonville.
Reynolds Smith and Hills Construction Services of Jacksonville is providing construction management oversight activities for FDOT.
The project should take approximately three years to complete. The contract specifies 900 days to complete the work and allows extra time for weather delays and unforeseen conditions in the field.
“We’re building a flyover ramp from I-95 south to 9A east,” said Curtis Long, Superior’s senior project manager. “There’s cloverleaf turns now that are right on top of each other. This is part of a larger interchange, one of many planned bridges in that area.”
At its highest point, the new ramp will be 50 ft. (15 m) high from the ground level to the top of the riding surface. It will consist of two, 12-ft.-wide (3.6 m) travel lanes, one 12-ft.-wide left shoulder and one 10-ft.-wide (3 m) right shoulder. It will replace the current exit which is a single lane, ground level ramp. The project covers approximately 2 mi. (3.2 km).
“Just to drive it, it’s an awkward traffic movement,” said FDOT spokesperson Mike Goldman. “This was built way back when it was a rural roadway. That’s another reason you don’t have any lights out there.”
Goldman said the new interchange will have several benefits once its completed, including making traffic flow much easier from I-95 south toward Blount Island, Dames Point and the beaches.
“In light of the port development, you’re going to get a lot more trucks headed in that direction coming down from the shipping ports on I-95 and going southbound,” Goldman said. “This project is really compatible and will complement some of the growth out there. It’s going to make a significant change in the highway landscape.”
When Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. announced in August 2005 that it planned to build its only East Coast container terminal in Jacksonville, JPA officials said it would lead to an unprecedented boom that would have an impact far beyond the port.
That’s quickly becoming a reality.
Hobart Joost Jr., senior vice president and principal of Colliers Dickinson, said that reality is part of the “industrial revolution that we’re experiencing here.”
“I’ve been doing real estate here for 33 years and I’ve never seen industrial at its peak here locally like it is now,” said Joost. “It is a direct result of the Mitsui terminal.”
Joost said during a seven week span this fall, Colliers Dickinson closed on $30 million worth of industrial real estate in Jacksonville and though the supply has dwindled and prices have tripled in the last three years, industrial developers are still beating down the door, looking for opportunities on the Northside.
“Certainly any road improvements out there will be helpful because we’re looking at quite an influx of containers with our TraPac/Mitsui terminal opening in December 2008,” said David Smolder, director of MOL/TraPac program development for the JPA.
“It has the potential when fully built for 500,000 containers a year. A lot of those containers will be heading up 9A to I-95 to go north and south.”
Smolder said the JPA is also working with FDOT to do $8 million to $10 million worth of improvements on the 9A exit ramp at Heckscher Drive.
“We’re getting ready to put that on the street for bids in the next 30 days,” Smolder said. “We’ll get started in December and have it finished by the time the terminal opens next December.”
Also adding to Northside traffic woes is the River City Marketplace, a $323 million, 465-acre (188 ha) mixed-use project being developed by Michigan-based Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust near I-95 and Airport Road. Approximately 125 acres (51 ha) is dedicated to the shopping complex, which will have 1.13 million sq. ft. (105,000 sq m) of retail space, upscale restaurants and a 203,000-sq.-ft. (18,900 sq m) Wal-Mart superstore. The Marketplace also includes 900 residential units and 300 hotel rooms.
“There’s a lot of economic development, not only with the Mitsui project coming in, but they built that new mall,” Long said. “When you have jobs and malls, housing comes with it and there’s a lot of housing development going on out there as well. This whole interchange, in addition to the other projects in the area, just helps traffic flow in the area, which helps drive the economic factors.”
Though, Long said, it’s still very early in the job, Superior is assembling equipment and manpower at the site.
“We’re still staffing up, but we’ll probably have one to two pile driving crews at all times,” Long said. “We’ll have a dirt crew, pipe crew, a sizable crew in the casting yard that will be working all the time. Our goal is to cast a segment a day.”
Goldman said the job is running ahead of schedule, despite a mishap in January.
“There’s a lot of action out there now,” Goldman said. “We did have to close the ramp and detour traffic for a couple of hours because we had a sheet pile cave-in.”
Crews currently are doing foundation work for the ramp piers.
Long estimates between all the crews there will be approximately 75 to 100 workers on-site. Most of the work will be done during the day, but nearly 30 percent of the work will be done at night.
Long said several subcontractors have already signed on for the project, including Atlantic Coast Asphalt, which will do the paving work; Bonn-J, which will reinforce the earth wall; Henson Electrical Co., which will handle lighting and electric work, and Belcor, erosion control.
They are currently negotiating with John Carlo Co. to do the concrete pavement.
Superior also plans to use a wide range of equipment, including cranes, pile driving hammers, pavers, rollers and two casting beds — one for the typical variable depth sections and one for the pier and abutment segments.
“This will have quite an interesting mix of equipment. It’s not a huge project, but it’s got some of everything,” Long said.
Superior owns most of its own equipment, but it will be renting cranes from Mobro Crane Rental and pile driving hammers from APE, companies Long said it has had very good results with in the past.
“It’s all about building relationships with people,” Long said. “In order to get good pricing and good service, they have to know you’re a good customer.”
As work progresses, Long said, there will be some detours and lane closures, but it hopes to keep them to a minimum, which is crucial along heavily traveled I-95.
“There’s about 20 different stages in the traffic control plan and they’re going to really try to make the traffic impacts minimal,” Long said. “We don’t detour traffic, except at night. There’s no lane closures, except at night. The good thing about it is there’s not long term detours. You may detour for a night or two to get across a particular ramp or a particular roadway, but once a segment is erected, that’s pretty much the end of it.”
When the clearing and grubbing is complete, Long said the next phase includes building temporary widening so they can shift I-95 traffic to the east, allowing construction to begin on the north approach, the retaining wall and the concrete pavement.
“That will also allow us to begin building substructure, driving 30-inch pilings, building footings, building columns and caps,” Long said. “The substructure can be built and we’ll just be waiting for the segments.”
And that’s where, Long said, it will be facing the job’s biggest challenge.
“First and foremost it’s a segmental job so the casting of the segment in correct alignment and the quality control associated with the segments is pretty huge,” Long said. “Add to that the erection of the segments in and over I-95 and it requires a lot of MOT construction and temporary widening. There’s a lot of jockeying of traffic that has to happen. When added to the fact that the erecting is complicated as well, it creates quite a challenge.”
Long said to meet the challenge, it has hired “some people in the industry who are segmental specific in order to bring in some added horsepower from a management/production capacity.”
“The driving factor is going to be how well the production and the erection of the segmental goes,” Long said. “The story of the job is the segmental bridge.”
Though the story still has three years to unfold, at least one person thinks it’s going to have a happy ending.
“It’s going to be great for Mitsui, great for the city and great for the port authority,” the JPA’s Smolder said. CEG