Economic Backbone - Transportation
Laura Kelley of the Central Florida Expressway Authority talks expressway projects
Executive director, Central Florida Expressway Authority, Orlando
When COVID-19 hit last year, the Central Florida Expressway Authority took advantage of the slower traffic to accelerate a number of projects, ranging from lighting improvements to the reconstruction of interchanges. The toll agency is also in the early stages of planning new corridors, including the Lake/Orange Expressway, which will connect SR 429 in west Orange County to a busy section of US 27 in south Lake County near Lake Louisa Park. Another key project will add lanes to the Poinciana Parkway (SR 538) in Osceola County, extending the road north to SR 532 and eventually connecting it to I-4 near the SR 429 interchange and ChampionsGate. “That project will be a game changer for Osceola County residents because they have no easy access to main arteries like that right now,” says Kelley, who weighed in on that and other projects in a recent interview.
- Airport Gateway: Right now, we are completely rebuilding the interchange that is the gateway to the Orlando International Airport. It’s going to greatly improve throughput in and out of the airport and in and out of the Beachline, but more importantly we’re redesigning it to really be a big welcome to people visiting from other parts of the world and other parts of the United States. We are going to make that a beautiful signature project with lush landscaping. It’s being constructed as we speak, and it’s going to take approximately two years to complete.
- Sustainability: We have a sustainability plan we’re implementing right now that’s investing $8 million on our roadways to provide solar power for various things, including dynamic message signs. That becomes increasingly important when we have hurricanes and evacuations — so signs continue to be powered even when the power is down. We are also investing in solar ponds. We have literally hundreds of drainage ponds throughout our system, and to utilize those for solar power makes a whole lot of sense. We are also doing a pilot project on the Lake/Orange Expressway … to electrify (the road). The electrification is in the asphalt, so as cars drive across it, it charges the electric vehicle almost like a moving utility. We anticipate that pilot project will begin construction when the Lake/Orange Expressway begins construction in about a year and a half to two years.
- Breathing Room: During the height of the pandemic, our revenues and traffic were down around 55% and that lasted about a month. Then we began recovering, and every month we’re seeing a growth in traffic. Now we’re down about 5% to 10% below pre-COVID levels. Part of the reason for that is people are ready to get out and just live their life again. I truly believe, as most people, there will be a permanent impact to traffic patterns because of work from home, but honestly that just gives us a little breathing room because before we were chasing growth, and it was very difficult to keep up with the demand. Capacity on some of our roads has doubled in a five-year time frame. That is mind blowing — and on the SR 417 and SR 429, that’s the reason we’re widening many parts of those roads.
Read more in Florida Trend's May issue.
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