JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Crews are finishing up the first phase the First Coast Expressway, a 12-mile toll road between Interstate 10 in Jacksonville to Blanding Boulevard in Middleburg.
Last month, the second phase of the project connecting the highway through Clay County to a new bridge across the St. Johns River received approval from the St. Johns River Water Management District.
This will be the first toll road in Northeast Florida since the toll booths came down on four Duval County river crossings in 1989. The expressway will give drivers west of Jacksonville a quicker, more convenient route between I-10 to I-95 in St. Johns County. It will also offer another evacuation route to escape severe storms.
"I think it's going to be a faster way and I think it's going to take a lot of pressure off traffic," Middleburg resident Brian Wynn said.
But at what cost? Cars will be charged from 20 cents to 85 cents, depending on how far they travel on the initial route of the highway. Florida Department of Transportation crews are already testing and calibrating the five toll gantries that will either scan a SunPass or read the vehicle's license plate.
Tolls will begin sometime in the fall when Phase 1 is fully opened.
The money will pay for construction and maintenance of the roadway.
While some people are looking forward to the new route, others are concerned about the amount of traffic.
Dawn Jones said more people have been using the service roads near her Middleburg home while the expressway is under construction.
"I live right there on it, so I'm nervous about how much noise there's going to be," Jones said. "People fly down the road now, so to think there will be a 70 mph road right there makes me a little nervous."
The second phase of the project, from Blanding Boulevard to Green Cove Springs, is expected to begin next January. There are future plans for the First Coast Expressway is to replace the State Road 16 Shands Bridge with a larger bridge with more lanes, then connect it to I-95 near St. Augustine.