JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— Jacksonville University has its main entrance situated on the intersection of University Boulevard and Merrill Road, but this intersection has not proven to be the safest over the years.
For the 3-year period between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2013, there were 89 crashes, according to a report by the Florida Department Of Transportation.
These traffic incidents have posed a danger to the university, its students, and members of the community.
“This intersection is one of the most dangerous in the city,” said Margaret Dees, senior vice president of Economic Development and External Engagement for Jacksonville University. “We’ve had a lot of people hurt, students and citizens, at this intersection. Our signs have been taken out multiple times.”
The proposed solution to these traffic problems is a turbo-roundabout.
The turbo-roundabout is four-lane entry intersection with barriers helping to guide the traffic and slow it down to create safer traffic flow.
According to the FDOT, roundabouts can increase the safety of intersections, due to their ability to reduce speeds and crashes. They are recognized by the US Department of Transportation as an effective safety countermeasure.
With the intersection receiving drivers as well as student and local foot traffic, the new project is designed with the pedestrian’s safety in mind.
The project will include building two catwalks north and south of the main gates on University Boulevard, keeping the people away from the cars.
“The catwalk is great,” says Kevin Bennett, director of Campus Security at JU. “Remember, it’s not just the city or of course, the university. It’s all about pedestrian safety.”
The roundabout will also include a piece of public art commissioned by JU and paid for by the university’s donors.
Jacksonville University has commissioned a world-renowned artist named Shan Shan Sheng to construct an art piece for the center of the new project. The piece is in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk and will be made partially of glass.
The roundabout and subsequent art fixture has its fair share of supporters, but also its adversaries.
“People crash into JU as it is and now,” says Patrick Hubert, a junior commuter student. “We’re going to put an expensive piece of art in the middle of the street? Like it won’t get hit?”
Some members in the Arlington community are uneasy about this project, due to the learning curve it will take to navigate it.
“What you are going to run into is, of course, people who are not used to and not familiar with roundabouts,” says Bennet. “So of course, they’re going to be opposed no matter what.”
Whether everyone is thrilled about the new project or not, construction will soon be underway.
The project was planned to be under construction by the summer of 2019 but is finally getting its start in April of 2020. This was due to the project changing hands from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.
“When this all started it was an FDOT project that was slated to have started last summer,” says Dees. “But at the last minute they decided to deed it over to the city, so it became a city project.”
This means that the JTA is footing the bill for the 1.9-million-dollar roundabout, with the art piece being paid for by JU donors.
Bennett is simply focused on the good the roundabout will do for driver and pedestrian safety.
“Anything to get people to slow down and pay attention to what is going on,” says Bennet. “How can that be a minus? It’s always going to be a plus when you can get people to slow down and pay more attention, see what’s going on, and that way you reduce a lot of crashes.”