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Connecting Jacksonville with the Future

Connecting Jacksonville with the Future

By Brian Russell, P.E., David Tudryn, AIA, and Andrew C. Rodgers, P.E.

Skyway at JRTC – April 2020

Grand Central Terminal in New York City, Union Station in Denver, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia: These iconic facilities transcend generations and are destinations in and of themselves. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) set out to join this list with the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center at LaVilla (JRTC). The JTA’s goal with this project was to centralize their dispersed connection hubs and services into one multi-functional facility that would become a model of transportation efficiency, signature aesthetics and community-serving features.

This ambitious project began in an unconventional fashion, with a design competition. The JTA challenged entrants to create a facility that would simultaneously serve the core functions of transportation and JTA offices while helping to build connections and revitalize the region. Many designs were submitted, but only one hit the mark: timeless and modern, effective and innovative. The winning firm, a joint venture between Michael Baker International and Pond & Company (officially known as the Pond|Michael Baker International JV), put forth a 67,000-square-foot facility that realizes complete-streets connections within an historic Jacksonville district. 

The project was completed using construction-manager-at-risk delivery, with the Pond|Michael Baker International JV serving as the project’s lead designer and providing community coordination and outreach, architecture, interior designs, structural engineering, civil engineering, M|E|P|FP engineering, landscape architecture, right-of-way and utility coordination, geotechnical engineering and construction management services. Balfour Beatty Construction provided general contractor services.

A Uniting Force

Connections are at the heart of the JRTC and to that end, the design process reflected the importance of community. The facility is located in Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood, an area that has long been regarded as an important center for African American culture and commerce but in recent years has seen economic activity decline. The JTA saw the design and construction of the JRTC as an opportunity to reinvigorate the once-multicultural district. So, when it came to design, the team began by imagining the area as a whole, envisioning the surrounding parcels and how they would interact with the structure, rather than using the structure as its starting point. At the same time, the needs of JTA’s individual departments and operations were taken into account, particularly the bus routes and schedules. The team designed the facility to balance the center’s layout between public and private transit entities and ensure the safety of all visitors and passengers, as much of the site was devoted to vehicular circulation. 

TOD strategies were employed in the design of the JRTC and the finished product is more than somewhere to catch a bus – it is a destination with centralized local, intercity regional transit networks (including 21 bus bays and seven staging bays), paratransit services, alternative mobility solutions, an elevated automated people mover (APM) system called the Skyway and space for future services. Inside, the JRTC consists of five floors of JTA office space, with two of the floors offering public space for riders and boarding and circulation spaces for buses, taxis, rental car services and an elevated rail system. The third floor includes an executive Board Room for regularly scheduled Board meetings and other large public meetings. Distinct elevator lobbies at each public level separate the public areas from JTA administrative functions but offer enough access to experience the views of Jacksonville and create a sense of community. The JRTC has become a hub of activity for the community, even hosting regular events such as farmer’s markets, and its interior spaces include significant contributions from local Jacksonville artists, which honor and memorialize the LaVilla Neighborhood’s music, heritage and transportation history.

The team also wove the JRTC’s exterior into the fabric of the neighborhood by providing gathering spaces, sidewalks, bike-sharing and business space. To further improve safe access to transit, the team designed and constructed an inviting pedestrian bridge that links the JRTC to the Intercity Bus Terminal, unifying the campus. The bridge spans 280 feet over LaVilla’s Stuart Street and West Forsyth Street and features a canopy with a design that extends the language of the triangulated curtain wall. The bridge serves as a new gateway to downtown Jacksonville for passenger cars exiting I-95.

Eye on Aesthetics and Sustainability 

The iconic, crescent-shaped structure is divided into public terraces with a glass curtain wall on one side to convey a sense of movement. The curtain wall, a progressive design hallmark envisioned to express acceleration and mirror the JTA’s philosophy of transportation, is the central artistic and architectural innovation of the JRTC. To achieve this look, the team worked with a specialized glazing manufacturer, creating a unique and aesthetically striking interlocking design of triangular and trapezoidal shapes that were printed on the glass. The coloring process involved printing the ink on the glazing to achieve two separate colors on the same piece of glass, an uncommon feature. The panels were assembled in a factory, accelerating construction and reducing costs, then hung like puzzle pieces on the façade. 

In addition to aesthetics, the curtain wall enhanced sustainability, allowing for natural daylighting. The team used energy analysis modeling to determine the percentage of insulation needed behind the curtain wall panels and in another effort to improve sustainability, performed building information modeling on the exact construction materials to design more efficient HVAC systems. The administrative building is currently pursuing LEED Gold Certification, while the adjacent Greyhound Terminal successfully achieved LEED Silver Certification. 

Future-Focused Design

The team made conscious design decisions with an eye to the future, ensuring that the facility is adaptable to new transportation technology. The skyway beam can be converted to an autonomous vehicle space with the removal of the monorail beam and conversion of the Skyway Terrace floor. Additionally, there is space for future micro and e-mobility solutions. In this way, the facility can continue to grow and change as the transportation needs of Jacksonville evolve. 

Among the most important and lasting benefits of the JRTC has been its impact on its host community. The commitment by the JTA to bring the intermodal center to LaVilla has greatly improved community access to the greater Jacksonville area for jobs while offering it as a convenient destination for future arts and entertainment venues, as well as the adjacent convention center.

In the end, the JRTC checked all of the JTA’s boxes: improve safety and access; provide highly-functional transit connections; be an icon for the City of Jacksonville; contribute to rejuvenating the adjacent neighborhoods; serve as a catalyst for Transit-Oriented Design (TOD) and demonstrate leadership in sustainability, energy and environmental design.  However, the primary achievement of the JRTC is gathering the city’s formerly fragmented transit services into a centralized modern hub, enabling riders to easily and safely transfer between modes of transportation both internal and external to Jacksonville. The facility opened in May 2020 at a cost of $59.5M. Today, the JRTC is bustling, serving about 18,500 people per day.

Brian Russell, P.E. is Project Principal in Charge and Vice President at Michael Baker International.
David Tudryn, AIA is Project Design Manager and National Specialty Practice Leader for Architecture at Michael Baker International.
Andrew C. Rodgers, P.E. is Assistant Vice President of Construction and Engineering at Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

This article was originally published in May 2021.