COJ, GWJ and JTA MOU Outlines Future Development of the Emerald Trail

Agreement Sets Stage for Collaboration and Grant Funding Opportunities

Emerald Trail press conference October 26, 2023. Pictured JTA Board Member Ari Jolly, JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford, GWJ CEO Kay Ehas, Mayor Donna Deegan, District 7 City Councilman Jimmy Peluso

The City of Jacksonville, Groundwork Jacksonville, and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) have announced the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the future design and development of the Emerald Trail.

The MOU applies to the five remaining trail segments to be funded, in part, by $132M from the Local Option Gas Tax. According to the agreement, Groundwork and JTA will collectively collaborate to manage and oversee trail design, permitting, and procurement, in accordance with the Emerald Trail Master Plan adopted by the Jacksonville City Council on March 26, 2019.

These future trail segments are Segment 3, Southwest connecting Riverside to McCoys Creek; Segment 4, S-Line Connector; Segment 6, Westside connecting the neighborhoods of North Riverside, Woodstock and Robinsons’ Addition; Segment 7 Northwest connecting Durkeeville, College Gardens, and New Town; and Segment 8, Eastside, connecting Phoenix and Springfield.

“The Emerald Trail project is part of a shared vision to rejuvenate our neighborhoods, foster a stronger sense of community, and instill vibrancy in the heart of this city,” said JTA CEO Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. “We’re excited to partner with Groundwork Jacksonville to design and build the five remaining segments of the Emerald Trail.”

Groundwork will continue to lead community outreach and engagement, and trail design. Groundwork and JTA will jointly negotiate fees, scope of work, and delivery schedules with design professionals. Both organizations will be involved in reviewing permits and construction plans, with JTA leading and procuring permitting and construction. Groundwork will continue to raise private dollars to accelerate and procure trail design and fund enhancements such as recreational amenities and public art.

Currently, 40% of the trail is complete, under construction, or in design by Groundwork Jacksonville and the City of Jacksonville. These include the LaVilla Link, opening in January 2024, Hogan Street, which is at 60% design and expected to be under construction in mid-2024, Hogans Creek which is in design and

expected to be under construction in 2026, and McCoys Creek; Phase 1 is currently under construction, the contract for construction of the outfall from Riverside Avenue to the St. Johns River has been awarded, phase 2 through Brooklyn is in design, and construction of the westernmost “branches,” is expected to begin fall 2024.

“Groundwork Jacksonville looks forward to working with the JTA to maintain the strong momentum we’ve been able to achieve with the City of Jacksonville thus far,” said Kay Ehas, CEO of Groundwork Jacksonville. “The Emerald Trail project will benefit from JTA’s federal procurement and construction management experience and its strong relationships with state and federal agencies.”

The three-way MOU paves the way for collaboration in securing federal grants for Jacksonville. In September, JTA and Groundwork submitted a $184M Neighborhood Access & Equity Program Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. If awarded, this grant will fund the construction of the five remaining trail segments, in addition to funding neighborhood equity and revitalization plans for seven Emerald Trail neighborhoods: Robinson’s Addition, College Gardens, New Town, Durkeeville, Phoenix, Brentwood, and Lackawanna/Mixon Town.

Funds for neighborhood planning will be used for data gathering, facilitation, compensation for community members to be involved in planning, and plan development. Neighborhood capacity-building activities will include assessments of neighborhood leadership development needs, funds to hire and pay executive directors for the seven neighborhood organizations for four years, and training for executive directors and board members on nonprofit management, strategic planning, fund development planning, community engagement, public policy advocacy, and housing development.

“The Emerald Trail will be an incredible catalyst for social and economic opportunity in Jacksonville, from encouraging healthy lifestyles and promoting public safety, to spurring neighborhood revitalization and economic development,” said Mayor Donna Deegan. “Leveraging public-private partnerships will be the key ingredient in ensuring the Trail gets completed in a timely manner for everyone to enjoy.”

The aggressive pursuit of state and federal grants is also a major component of our strategy to complete the Emerald Trail within a decade,” Mayor Deegan added. “As we look forward to more of the trail being completed, as mayor let me say the successful completion of the entire green belt is a high priority for my administration and we couldn’t be more thrilled about today’s news.”