The map is the problem and the solution. For months, St. Johns County has been floating the idea of a six-laned A1A through the very heart of residential Ponte Vedra Beach — the same Ponte Vedra Beach that provides the cache of the PGA, ATP, TPC and the Inn & Club, as well as thousands of high-end homes that provide a treasure trove of property taxes for the county. In essence, the county wants to bolden the eastern boundary of a very large square bounded by JTB on the north, I-295 to the west and Nocatee Parkway and Palm Valley Road on the south. In the heart of that very large box, with the exception of Pablo Creek Reserve, is a vast void of unused space.
More so than St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra Beach is a suburb of Jacksonville. It attracts families who work in Duval, but who want the safety, school system and lower property taxes of St. Johns. And St. Johns is happy to oblige. One cannot drive Roscoe Boulevard, Palm Valley Road or A1A south of Mickler’s Landing without running into numerous construction crews and denuded home sites. This says nothing about the ever-growing Nocatee. But whereas St. Johns has no problem authorizing more homes, it has thus far failed to address the added traffic these homes bring. The result for Ponte Vedra Beach and Nocatee is the “Hobson’s Choice” of driving southwest to U.S. 1 or I-95 to go north to Jacksonville, or driving east, nearly to the ocean, to pick up A1A and the far end of JTB.
Anyone who has driven these arteries at peak traffic times — and often in non-peak times — has an intimate knowledge of the word “gridlock.” Driving into Jacksonville, normally a 25- to 30-minute trip, can take 45 minutes to an hour at rush hour, with a majority of that extra time spent lurching about U.S. 1 and A1A. Further, there is no direct line from Nocatee to the employment center quickly arising around Town Center. But look at the map. Hodges and Kernan boulevards, both four-lane roads extending into east Jacksonville, dead-end just south of JTB. Both are pointed at the heart of Nocatee, and one or both, if extended to Nocatee Parkway, would provide alternate north-south arteries for the residents of northern St. Johns County. The problem, of course, is that the vacant land is in Duval, owned by one of the county’s most famous families.
The solution is simple - and difficult. St. Johns has to bring Duval to the table. One of Jacksonville’s former mayors once famously thanked St. Johns County for its school system, because it had fed Jacksonville’s labor force. It’s time to remind Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry of this fact. Someone has to convince the Davis family and Duval County that a new, limited access north-south artery, west of the Intracoastal, offers more for their coffers and permits the opportunity to maintain a preserve of natural forest in the area. The City of Jacksonville, the State of Florida and the St. Johns River Water Management District (the “SJRWMD”) already have the land south of Hodges Boulevard and JTB under a conservation easement and will ultimately own the land outright in the future.
Alternatively, if northern St. Johns County becomes unlivable due to traffic, Jacksonville and St. Johns County will suffer. Six-laning A1A through some of the county’s most valuable residential property is not an answer and, in fact, likely causes more harm than good. Make the call, St. Johns; Mayor Curry is waiting.