Toll Road Expansion in Orlando

As the Super Region finds intermodal answers to transportation questions, highways are being overhauled too.

A  drive west on Interstate 4 and farther on Interstate 275 offers Metro Orlando a glimpse at the future. 

The I-4/Selmon Connector, recently completed, is a one-mile project that cost roughly $425 million during its four years of construction. Today, the elevated toll road provides exclusive truck lanes for direct access to Port Tampa Bay while reducing traffic on local roads.

Farther west is more than $216 million worth of ongoing work to widen 4.2 miles of I-275 from downtown Tampa to east of State Road 60. Ultimately, the project will expedite movement and ease commutes. For now, traffic is slow, and the fruits of labor won’t be quite evident until closer to the fall 2016 scheduled completion date. The same is true on Tampa Bay stretches of Interstate 75.

Metro Orlando, take notes. Your turn is right around the bend.

With the springtime selection of the I-4 Mobility Partners to lead the way in an innovative public-private partnership, the much-discussed and long-anticipated I-4 Ultimate Project became very real. And like with I-275, heightened efficiency is promised but not before some commuter angst.  

Take heart.

I-4 consists of 73 miles of roadway that connects Tampa with Orlando and accommodates an average of 1.5 million trips daily in Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties alone. The I-4 corridor is also considered a Designated Strategic Intermodal System Highway Corridor link of the state’s intermodal transportation network. This work will be smack dab in the middle.

The project — at an estimated cost of $2.3 billion — includes the reconstruction of 21 miles of I-4 from west of Kirkman Road in Orange County to east of State Road 434 in Seminole County. It adds four tolled express lanes while maintaining the highway’s existing free general-use lanes. The express lanes will be operated with variable tolls, which will be adjusted to improve traffic flow throughout the corridor. In addition, the project involves reconstructing 15 major interchanges and constructing more than 145 bridges. Work is scheduled to start early next year with projected completion in 2021.

Optimism from the experts abounds about the future of I-4, opened in 1965.

“The use of a public-private partnership for the I-4 Ultimate Project will help us deliver these improvements 20 years sooner than using conventional methods,” says Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad. “This benefits Central Florida residents, commuters and visitors.”

“In partnership with Florida DOT, our world-class team will deliver the best value solution to the Orlando region’s residents and businesses, and to the millions of international visitors to this globally popular destination,” comments Karl Reichelt, executive vice president of Skanska Infrastructure Development, a team leader of the I-4 Mobility Partners. “Safety will be improved, and the corridor will enable efficient travel in a sustainably and economically built corridor that uniquely reflects Central Florida in its design.”

And, indeed, there is more promising news. In January, Gov. Rick Scott earmarked $3.8 billion for construction of highway projects as part of $8.8 billion to FDOT to make strategic transportation improvements throughout the state. Also, Grow America Act, a $302 billion federal transportation bill, is in the offing. (See Page 18.)

More money for road construction and repair is just down the road. Take heart. And drivers, take a deep breath.

* This article was printed as “Road to Recovery.”