It’s hard to imagine a time when State Road 202, better known as J. Turner Butler Blvd., wasn’t one of Jacksonville’s most important roadways.
When the road first fully opened in the late 1970s, though, it was referred to by locals as the “road to nowhere”.
Butler Blvd. was constructed by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority as a limited-access expressway to keep up with growing development areas around the Southside. It was named after J. Turner Butler, a local lawyer who had contributed to the formation of JTA’s predecessor, the Jacksonville Expressway Authority.
But while the Southside community was growing, it hadn’t quite grown enough for residents at the time to understand the point of the road. The road extended from Philips Highway all the way to the Beaches, but there was very, very little in between.
Additionally, getting all the way to the Beaches wasn’t necessarily a fun trip. The Arthur N. Sollee Bridge, which carries traffic across the Intracoastal Waterway, originally only carried one lane of traffic in each direction.
When the second span of the bridge was finally constructed in the mid ‘80s, a major design miscommunication resulted in the roadway being extremely bumpy. A lawsuit followed between JTA and the construction company, but never resulted in the roadway being fixed. To this day, the eastbound span of the Sollee Bridge continues to be a bumpy ride.
To add to its public-relations issues, the road featured toll plazas that wouldn’t be removed until 1989 when all JTA-controlled toll plazas were removed.
Around the same time as the toll plazas were removed in 1989, the Florida Department of Transportation took over control of Butler Blvd. from the city.
As time went on, the road’s existence gradually started making a lot more sense. Southside communities continued to expand rapidly, and development began to fill in along previously undeveloped stretches of the road. And as the expressway became more valuable, projects began to upgrade various interchanges.
In 1986, JTA acquired the land needed to re-configure the Butler/A1A interchange into a trumpet-style interchange with the goal of cutting down on accidents. Due to legal holdups, the new ramps wouldn’t be completed for another decade; they opened in 1997.
A proposed expansion of Butler Blvd. from Philips Highway to Old Kings Rd. never ended up becoming a reality. To this day, the Philips Highway intersection remains as the westbound endpoint for the roadway.
Around the turn of the century, discussions began to upgrade the interchange between Florida 9A (now I-295) and Butler. At the same time, discussions were also beginning to develop a massive new outdoor shopping mall on land around Gate Parkway that would be highly visible from this proposed interchange.
The mall project – which became the St. Johns Town Center – would open in 2005, and brought even more traffic to JTB. Meanwhile, the intricate whirlpool-style JTB/I-295 interchange was completed in 2008.
The most recent interchange improvement project involved solving the constant congestion issues at the Butler/I-95 exchange, with the construction of two new flyover ramps allowing for unimpeded traffic flow between Butler Blvd. and I-95. The project began in 2014, and will be completed later this year.
As Butler Blvd. approaches 40 years of serving traffic from Philips to A1A, it’s amazing to consider how drastically the perception of the road has changed. What was once seen as a useless, empty roadway now seamlessly carries hundreds of thousands of residents from I-95 to the Beaches, from I-95 to I-295, from all parts of the city to the city’s biggest mall, and more.
And what was once mocked as the “road to nowhere” has, decades later, become the road to just about everywhere in Jax.