$200 Million Ride to Nowhere

ByABC News
July 29, 2002, 6:52 PM

J A C K S O N V I L L E, Fla., July 29 -- The 2.5-mile Jacksonville Automated Skyway Express is a model of efficiency. Completely automated and controlled from a central operation center, the Skyway makes eight stops throughout the northeastern Florida city that is split in two by the St. John's River.

The only problem: hardly anyone rides it.

"It's strictly a waste of money from beginning to end," decried longtime Jacksonville critic Marvin Edwards. He blames the builder and supporter of the Skyway, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA).

"They lied about ridership projections," explained Edwards. "They said 56,000 a day at first, then dropped that to 30,000, then last it was 18,000 to 19,000."

Currently, the Skyway sees 3,000 riders per day who pay 35 cents a trip. In fiscal 2001, the Skyway brought in $513,694 in revenue but its expenses were $3.5 million.

Fights for Funding

The Skyway was first proposed back in 1971. It took more than a decade before the funding federal, state and local could be secured to start construction. At the time, the goal was mainly for development so the Skyway to connect the downtown core with parking facilities away from downtown.

The Jacksonville Skyway was part of three demonstration projects to see if "people-mover" systems could stimulate business expansion in downtown centers. Detroit and Miami received federal funds for similar projects.

Some officials within the Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Authority questioned the ridership projections for the Jacksonville Skyway.

In an interview with ABCNEWS' John Martin in 1994, Federal Transit Administration official Gordon Linton said, "We and this department, this administration and previous administrations, have not supported it."

Nevertheless, Congress eventually provided more than half the funds for the $182 million Skyway.

In 1987 construction began on the first 0.7-mile portion of the system.

"It was mainly for political reasons, not transportation reasons," explained former Rep. Bob Carr, who chaired the committee that approved funding for transportation projects in the early 1990s. "Like so many projects, they get a camel's nose under the tent and then it gets very very difficult to stop them."