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i95/i295 interchange

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Orange cones ahead for north I-95

Hearing is today on new interchange; widening north of Lem Turner starts in the spring.

By DAVID BAUERLEIN

The Times-Union

Never-ending construction on Interstate 95 has enlarged the highway from the Georgia line to St. Augustine, but one stretch in north Jacksonville has been stuck in the past, untouched by the tread of bulldozers and cement trucks.

That part of I-95 is about to get its turn.

Tonight, the state Department of Transportation will conduct a public hearing to show plans for a $208 million, four-level interchange at I-95 and I-295. Building the whole project could take 20 years, but it will be done in stages with construction of the first piece starting in 2007.

To clear space for the bigger interchange, the state will need to buy seven homes and relocate residents, mainly in the northwest corner of the highway junction, project manager Dennis Lord said Wednesday.

Ruby Baxley, who lives in a mobile home less than 100 yards from I-95, expressed alarm about the prospect of relocating residents. She said if her home is on the list, she'd fight it.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "I'll probably go to court over it."

The interchange is one of three upcoming projects for I-95 between Lem Turner Road and I-295. Along that stretch of highway, motorists funnel down to four lanes. In the spring, the state will begin widening I-95 to six lanes from Lem Turner to Heckscher Drive, including a new Trout River Bridge. Hal Jones Contractor of Jacksonville submitted a low bid of $53.4 million.

In 2007, the Transportation Department will move on to widen I-95 from Heckscher to I-295. The state had planned to start that construction in 2009, but Jacksonville City Hall will lend about $24 million of Better Jacksonville Plan money so the work gets under way two years sooner. The state will repay the money by June 2009 when the Better Jacksonville Plan will use the funding to widen Beaver Street between Edgewood Avenue and Cahoon Road.

The City Council approved the loan agreement Sept. 28 at the urging of Councilman Warren Alvarez, who said the highway widening and interchange improvements are long overdue. The interchange will be designed for cars to travel at 50 mph on the elevated ramps and that will "speed that interchange up a good bit," Alvarez said.

The north Jacksonville interchange will be similar in size to the one being built at I-95 and I-295 in south Jacksonville, Lord said.

The interchange in south Jacksonville faced a furious backlash from Mandarin homeowners when they saw how it would bring the highway closer to their back yards and cut back tree buffer that had shielded the view of the highway from their homes.

Lord said the height of the north Jacksonville interchange will probably make it visible from some existing homes.

"I guess it would depend on the angle and proximity to tree coverage," he said Wednesday. "It's really hard to say right now, but I'm sure there would be some residents in the general area who would see the interchange if they don't have tree buffer."

The first piece of construction on the interchange will be to build a curving, two-lane, elevated ramp from southbound I-95 to eastbound Florida 9A for drivers heading toward the Dames Point bridge. The estimated cost of construction is $27.5 million and would begin in two years.

Lord said the state already owns all the land it needs for building that first elevated ramp. In 2010, the state will proceed with right of way acquisition for the rest of the interchange. The state does not have a timeline for when the rest of the interchange will be built, other than in the next 20 years.

"It just comes down to available funding," Lord said.

First Coast News reporter Melissa Ross contributed to this report.

david.bauerleinjacksonville.com, (904) 359-4581

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A multilevel interchange at Interstates 95 and 295 in north Jacksonville will be built in several phases starting in 2007.

Staff/file

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