There's nothing small about the plan known as Better Jacksonville. Launched in 2001 and involving billions of dollars in improvement, the Florida city's massive initiative encompasses everything from the construction and improvement of facilities like a baseball park, courthouse, and libraries to environmental restoration and parks development projects.

But the largest, most costly, and potentially most publicly disruptive part of the Better Jacksonville plan is the roads improvement portion. When the Better Jacksonville plan launched, roads projects were budgeted at a total of $1.5 billion, which covered new and widened roads, rapid transit rights of way, road resurfacing, safety grade crossings, sidewalks, bike paths, and landscaping. Five years into the program, city officials now estimate that Better Jacksonville's roads projects ultimately will cost more than $2 billion.

The scale of the road improvement initiative was necessary simply because it had been years—in some cases, decades—since much of the city's infrastructure had been overhauled. City officials knew the volume of road work could be troubling to residents, but also saw the long-term benefits to the community.

“We wanted to get ahead of the curve,” said Ed Hall, interim director of the Jacksonville public works department. “Traffic congestion problems were becoming an issue. The mayor at the time did some advertising to build public support for the major roadway and intersection improvements.”

There currently are about 100 road repair and construction projects under way in Jacksonville, some overseen by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and some by the city's public works department.

“Most of the 68 public works projects are reconstruction projects,” said Dave Schneider, senior project manager for the Jacksonville public works department. Though Schneider recently took over management of the city's courthouse project, he managed the roads portion of Better Jacksonville for the past three years. “To date we have completed 22 of the 68 projects on the city's list. We have construction under way on eight projects and design under way on the remaining 38.”

Given that scale, there was never a question about whether road work would be doled out to contractors. Every portion of the work is contracted out—design, engineering, management, construction, and inspection.

“That's the way it's always been here with the city,” said Schneider. “It's a matter of both cost and accountability. When you have people with contracts, they have to perform. It motivates the contractors to get the work done.”

But engaging enough contractors qualified to complete the varied volume of work presented one of Jacksonville's biggest challenges, prompting the city to carefully consider some alternative approaches to its contracting process, said Alan Mosley, chief operating officer of Jacksonville and the city's former director of public works. “There's a lot of work in this community and the surrounding areas—both private and public,” he said. “The hurricanes certainly complicated that.”

New approaches

One of the first things the city did to accommodate the scale of its road work was to try and coordinate its projects with others being contracted around the city—particularly those at the state level.