The Central Florida Expressway Authority is embarking on its most expensive five-year construction program ever – $1.6 billion over five years – yet very little of that money is going into new highway miles.

Instead, the vast majority of it is going into upgrades, expansions, rehabs and reworking of the existing 109 miles of tolled expressways through Central Florida.

It’s that time, the CFX Board of Directors decided Friday when it approved the 2018-2022 work plan.

The only new miles of roadway in the plan involve the finishing the Wekiva Parkway, the $1.6 billion outter-belt expressway looping though parts of Seminole, Lake and Orange counties between I-4 in Lake Mary and State Road 429 in Apopka. [Florida is paying about $500 million of that.] The expressway authority’s last 10 miles of that highway, from about Mount Plymouth Road to State Road 46, will cost about $127 million next year, plus another $28 million or so in finishing touches over the next five years.

The rest the $1.6 billion will pay for improvements to old parts of the system.

“There are a lot of upgrades needed,” said CFX spokesman Brian Hutchings. “Central Florida is experiencing major growth both in population and our economy. This has led to growth in the numbers of customers driving on our 109-mile expressway system. Each month, for the last couple of years, we have exceeded our projections for trips on our system.

“Because of this, we took a hard look at ‘hotspots’ on our system that experience the highest levels of traffic congestion during peak travel times, and then crafted our five-year work plan to focus on projects that will provide relief to the most congested sections on our system,” he added.

No additional toll increases are planned to pay for any of it; all will be paid through the existing and planned toll structure, though that may include some annual increases starting in 2018. Earlier this year the board abolished a policy calling for 15 percent toll increase this summer and similar increases every five years. In its place the board adopted a new policy calling for much smaller annual increases for E-PASS drivers, starting on July 1, 2018, of 1.5 percent, or the Consumer Price Index annual increase for southern states, which ever is higher.

In the five-year work plan, running through the 2021-’22 fiscal year, the expressway authority is planning to spend $755 million on general improvements, mostly adding lanes and other widening projects, to existing expressways; $355 million on rebuilding existing interchanges; and $226 million on renewal and replacement projects. There also are some smaller sums set aside for upgrading technologies, and other administrative features of the system.

There also is some money in the plan for longterm expansion projects, including extending S.R. 408 eastward, across the Econlockhatchee River, toward Brevard County, and developing the new, proposed expressway road system through Osceola County, around Kissimmee and St. Cloud. However, it’s all planning and engineer money. There is no construction money set aside for any of those projects, through at least the 2021-’22 fiscal year.

Some of the upgrades to State Road 528 in east Orange County, including a new bridge over the Wekiva River, are being planned to make room for the privately-owned and -operated Brightline high-speed passenger train being planned to run from Miami to Orlando International Airport. That company, which will lease the corridor, has run into some legal and financial issues, putting the timetable if not the prospect of that rail project up in the air for now. But CFX is planning to have SR 528 ready to accommodate a railroad corridor for Brightline within the S.R. 528 right of way by 2022.

Other upgrades already are in the works, as the five-year plan updates the previous plan, carrying forward projects already started. They include widening of State Road 417, the most expensive portion of the package, valued at more than $300 million. Most of that will happen in the years 2018-2021. Similar widening projects are slated for State Roads 408, 429, and 528.

 

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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