AASHTO Journal, 29 January 2016
The Florida Department of Transportation opened the first 3.14-mile section of the $1.6 billion Wekiva Parkway toll road project in Orlando on Jan. 20, with that part of State Road 429 becoming the first in the central Florida area to only use electronic tolling.
The toll on that first parkway segment is 75 cents for drivers equipped with E-PASS or SunPASS. Those without a transponder will pay through a “Toll by Plate” program that charges a $1 toll plus $2.50 a month in administrative fees.
Work on this first parkway stretch began in February 2013, with a construction cost of $25.48 million. When the total 25-mile Wekiva Parkway is open, it will complete Central Florida’s beltway around Orlando, FDOT said, while helping protect natural resources surrounding the Wekiva River.
The total $1.6 billion parkway is reportedly Florida’s most expensive toll road project, and is expected to be completed in 2021.
The parkway is a collaboration between FDOT, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise and the Central Florida Expressway Authority, formerly the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. The project was authorized by the state’s 2004 Wekiva Parkway & Protection Act, and project development included conserving more than 3,400 acres of land.
The parkway will include extensive wildlife bridges, will be largely elevated and will relocate a small portion of County Road 46A out of the Seminole State Forest to reduce conflicts between vehicles and wildlife. It will have a 10-mile, multi-use trail along portions primarily in Lake and Seminole Counties.
It will feature all electronic tolling “to keep traffic moving and for the greatest customer convenience,” FDOT said.
Backers say the parkway will also provide travel alternatives, enhance safety and relieve US 441 and other area roads of traffic congestion. Non-tolled, one-lane service roads for local trips will parallel the parkway in portions of Lake County and Seminole County.
This initial section used time-saving, design-build projects, and includes a partial interchange at SR 46, four bridges and a temporary ramp at CR 435 that will be removed once the Central Florida Expressway Authority builds an adjacent section.
Getting ready for it, crews in January 2013 relocated 107 gopher tortoises to a state-licensed recipient site, and other gopher tortoises have since been relocated. In addition, a wildlife biologist oversaw staff training and protection of burrowing owls and other animals during construction.
Wildlife fencing was installed measuring 10 feet tall with two ft. below ground to discourage animals digging onto the corridor. A floodplain bridge allows safe wildlife passage between habitats during dry periods. And 10 bat houses along the project each provide housing for up to 1,200 bats.