LAKE ASBURY – Hundreds streamed through a small office to look at renderings of the First Coast Expressway’s next segment that will wind its way through Clay County.
The top half of segment two begins at Blanding Boulevard and goes to north of State Road 16. Construction will begin this month and finish in 2026, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. The southern half of the project in Clay County will run $180 million and the entire project costs $230 million. Construction begins in March and is expected to be completed in 2026.
The toll road, when complete, will connect Interstate 10 in Duval County to Interstate 95 in St. Johns County and involve building a new Shands Bridge in Green Cove Springs.
FDOT spokeswoman Sara Pleasants said the open house format helps residents visualize sections of the project and talk in person to engineers who are working on the project. A highlight of the project is the complex being dubbed the “Diverging Diamond Interchange,” which involves two directions of traffic near Henley Road, beneath the expressway, where drivers will briefly drive on the opposite side of the road. The interchange will be the first in the county, according to FDOT.
“The First Coast Expressway supports all the growth and development that’s taking place in western Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties,” Pleasants said. “It’s getting people to where they need to go.”
Clay County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Residents at the open house said change to the area was inevitable.
John and Shirley Roberts live in the Glenhaven subdivision. They said they moved away from Baxley Road because they knew the project was coming.
“Honestly, it’s really disheartening,” Shirley Roberts said. “I guess there will be a lot more noise.”
John Roberts lamented an increase in traffic, though he said the expressway would make it easier to get around.
“This little area can’t handle (the traffic) right now. The positive is that it’ll be easier to get around. We’ve already bought a SunPass because we enjoy shopping in Oakleaf.”
Lake Asbury resident Colleene Hendley said she understood progress had to come. As a longtime Clay County resident, she describes Clay’s growth as shocking.
“I know you’ve got to have progress and a place for some people to go, but it just breaks my heart to see this land and everything that’s been here since I was a young child change,” Hendley said.
Rik Stuart remembered when Lake Asbury was there was one lake and Henley Road was unpaved.
“I think it’s been a long time coming,” Stuart said. “We’ve been hearing about it for a long time. I’m glad to see construction getting started.”
Maurice Lanier, who has lived in Lake Asbury since the 1970s, filled out a comment card because she wants noise barriers along the corridor.
“It’s going to be very noisy,” Lanier said. “I’m hoping it’ll be a selling point for our house at some point in time.”
Gail Sammond commented on FDOT’s approach, which she’s been following. Though she can hear County Road 218 from her house and fears what the expressway may sound like, she said the FDOT’s final option was best for the county as a whole.
“Considering what (processes) FDOT had to go through to get here, it’s fair,” said Sammond. “Progress is going to happen no matter what. It impacts individuals, but overall they probably did the best they could do.”
The First Coast Expressway is funded by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise through bonds, and fees collected from the tolls will maintain the road. SunPasses are available online at sunpass.com or select grocery and drugstores.