Residents impressed with First Coast Expressway’s landscaping plans

By Nick Blank
Posted 4/17/19

OAKLEAF - The First Coast Expressway commute is getting greener.

State transportation officials showed residents plans for two $1.5 million landscaping projects for the toll road. The first runs …

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Residents impressed with First Coast Expressway’s landscaping plans

Posted

OAKLEAF - The First Coast Expressway commute is getting greener.

State transportation officials showed residents plans for two $1.5 million landscaping projects for the toll road. The first runs from I-10 to the Clay County line, and the second goes from the county line to north of Blanding Boulevard.

Residents viewed large renderings of the project and examples of the vegetation such as trees, walls and the decorative bushes at a recent workshop at the Oakleaf Baptist Church. The landscaping is expected to begin in the fall. They hope to finish by mid-2020. The projects, which call for the planting of maple, magnolia, pine, cedar, oak and palm trees, are about to go to bid.

FDOT spokeswoman Sarah Pleasants called the work intensive. She said it was important people know what to expect.

“We’re going to beautify the roadway and make it a pleasant place for people to drive if they live there or are just passing through the area,” Pleasants said. “It’s a big landscaping project when you consider most of our landscaping projects are at a single interchange.”

Gene Dickey lives in Oakleaf and was impressed by the presentation. He said he was concerned about the number of retention ponds.

“It looks like it is going to be beautiful,” Dickey said.

Middleburg resident Gary Truitt said he was retired and living on a budget, so he wasn’t happy the First Coast Expressway was so close to his home. He said the landscaping boosted his idea of the project.

“The money is used for something positive,” Truitt said. “I think the landscaping looks real nice. I didn’t expect it. It’s a good layout.”

The estimated $1.9 billion First Coast Expressway is funded by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise through bonds, and fees collected from the tolls will maintain the road.

The stretch due for landscaping was the $160 million first phase, from I-10 to Blanding Boulevard. It fully opened this spring. The second phase from Blanding Boulevard to east of County Road 209 has an expected completion date of 2026 and will cost more than $400 million. The final stage involves rebuilding the Shands Bridge.

A major facet of the First Coast Expressway is the impending tolls, which have been delayed. Truitt and Dickey wondered when the tolls were going to open. The tolls flash, but are in “shadow mode,” not recording licenses or SunPass stickers yet.

“We’ll let people know when it happens,” Pleasants added. “It will not be a surprise.”

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