ORLANDO:Western Expressway, Orlando's 4th pike opens

August 20, 2000
By Peter Samuel

ORLANDO:Western Expressway, Orlando’s 4th pike opens

Originally published in issue 50 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Jul 2000.

Page:22

Subjects:new toll road opening survey

Facilities:Western expressway FL-429

Agencies:OOCEA

Locations:Orlando FL

End of first year traffic for 429/A was forecast by Vollmer Associates to be 13k veh/day – with the Turnpike interchange in operation. A short distance from that interchange is a spur to OOCEA’s East-West Expressway (FL-408), its busiest that goes through the middle of Orlando’s CBD. For the moment traffic has to use signalized FL-50 to make the 429/408 or 429/Turnpike connections.

With FL-429 OOCEA cannot be accused of only serving the area’s upper classes! Southern Apopka is notoriously a rough, troubled area of social problems and ‘redneck’ news reports. Its schools are regarded as poor and heavily overcrowded. But close-by there are many lower-cost middle income subdivisions springing up that will probably make more use of the toll road. The roadway was built predominantly through farmland, zoned for development, though there are abutting residential developments at each end.

Traffic forecasting is difficult because this is a fringe area with uncertain pace of development. In addition, the existing US-441 being radially oriented goes more directly to the CBD than the toll road. Vollmer estimated the toll road Part A would attract 10 to 15% of corridor traffic, much of it short hops. They made no forecasts of the road as part of a longer western beltway system.

The Western Exwy (FL-429) is the fourth toll road to be opened by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA). Its immediate purpose is to provide connectivity to the region’s motorway system for people in the developing northwestern part of the metro area, but it also represents the first part of a major north-south highway along the western edge of the metro area. Alignments are approved for a 37km (23mi) extension of FL-429 south from the Turnpike IC in Ocoee toward the Disney theme parks. And there are studies of extensions 20km (12mi) northward to FL-46 just inside Lake County so this could become a 74km (46mi) highway.

The just-opened FL-429/A is 2x2-lanes and cost $237m ($3.5m/lane-km, $5.6m/lane-mi). Construction was $168m, land acquisition $47m, design, administration and legal costs $11m, environmental mitigation $7m, and toll equipment $4m.

Ten houses and other structures had to be acquired and demolished for construction. A golf course is bisected by the toll road and a tunnel underpass, and further along, an overpass were built for golfers and their golfcarts, as well as golf course equipment.

429/A has one mainline toll plaza ($1 cash for cars) and three interchanges, two of which have ramp tolls (25c and 50c each for cars). The ramp plazas are set up with an ET-only lane and a cash lane each side. The cash lane has a toll booth plus coin machines. Traffic doesn’t warrant manning the ramp plaza toll booths, so people either throw coins or use ET.

ET brandnamed here E-PASS is a bumper-mounted transponder with an in-pavement antenna, an almost one-of-a-kind system from Mark IV, but this front-end is only months away from being phased out in favor of the statewide Sunpass front-end which uses a Transcore/Amtech system of backscatter transponders mounted on the windshield with overhead readers. E-PASS users get a frequency based discount on cash tolls – a 5% discount on their monthly bill for 40 to 79 tolls and a 10% discount for 80 or more tolls during the month.

OOCEA opened a new West Side Service Center just off the southern end of the toll road on FL-50 (at 5050 W Colonial Dr) to encourage adoption of ET, and to help handle the transition to SunPass, due for Dec 1.

ETX

The Forest Lake Main Toll Plaza located about midway along 429/A is the first in Florida to operate with electronic toll express (ETX) lanes for full highway speed tolling. The central express facility is a continuation of the normal road cross-section – two lanes on each side and a median wide enough (19.5m 64') to allow widening to 2x3 ETX lanes if needed in the future. There are 3-cash toll lanes off to each side. The toll plaza has a glassed in walkover of all ten toll lanes for toll collectors to get from one side to the other safely.

In the first days of tolling evasion was rampant on the ETX lanes.

“Day one it was 50% non-payers, day-two about 75%, day-three 90%. Some of them don’t know, some are testing you out. We’ve just got to work at that,” said an official. They have violation cameras, but old ones, not really geared to getting the guy zooming through at 80 or 90mph. The violation rate in the ETX lanes – defined as non-payers whether because of not having a transponder at all, or having a transponder that doesn’t work – is running at about 10%. In the retrofitted ET-only lanes on other OOCEA toll roads the violation rate is 5 to 6%, and systemwide they don’t collect tolls from 2.5% of travelers who should be paying (That excludes cops, staff, emergency services and others entitled to a free trip.)

For vehicle classification by axle count they have Idris Smart Loops. They also plan to install sidefire Schwartz Electro-Optic (SEO) lasers for axle counting. Only need one system will be needed but they are using the FL-429 as a testbed to evaluate the technologies for use on ETX lanes planned for retrofit on the FL-408 and other roads.

The roadway pavement is 11m (36') wide including a shoulder rightside and offset leftside. The sealed pavement is 115mm (4.5") thickness of the FHWA-developed Superpave asphalt, supposed to give 20-years service life, or about twice regular asphalt. OOCEA officials say the major problem they found was getting adjusted to the long curing time of Superpave. It remains soft and vulnerable to damage much longer than normal asphalt mixes. Workers driving on it had to be put under instructions to drive very gingerly, avoiding hard stops and tight turns for several weeks. On top of the Superpave is a 20mm (3/4") open-course friction surface of dark granite imported from Nova Scotia

As is usual in Florida – due for total inundation in better global warming scenarios – the natural ground level is only just above the watertable, so fill is hard to come by, and usually generated by digging ponds, either within the right of way, or off it. In the case of 429/A 8m cub yds of fill was needed, half dug from within the right-of-way, half trucked in from ‘borrow pits’, outside. Most important in supporting the pavement of most Florida roads is 200mm (8") of rock-lime spread as a roadway base. Mined in the Miami area it rolls down into a natural concrete base.

The project has 41 bridge structures, mostly for grade separation with local roads. All of them use standard prefab reinforced concrete beams. The bridges are painted with a Class 5 finish, the bridges light green. Reinforced earth walling has a tan/light brownish finish, both with an anti-graffiti coating. Landscaping on the project was minimal, to save money and “because there’s not much out there anyway.”

Construction ran a little over the originally quoted “spring 2000” opening but cost was about on budget. General engineering consultant was Post Buckley etc. Dedication events on the Saturday included a 5km run (on foot) along the toll road, games, bike riding and walking with refreshments provided. This was organized by professional event managers, net proceeds going to various local charities (www.trackshack.com) Traffic began using the road at 4pm and had free rides for nearly a week, tolling beginning 6am July 15.

Part C

OOCEA hopes to have construction work started early 2001 on a 5km (3.5mi) southward extension from the Turnpike IC to Orange County road 535, for completion 2003 - a $70m project. It then plans to split with the Florida Turnpike/DOT an approx 20km (12mi) stretch from OC-535 to US-192, the main entry to the Disney theme parks. A further leg of FL-429, US-192 to I-4 looks logical but traffic projections are inadequate to support it financially, according to OOCEA. It might make sense as a 2-lane single roadway as half of an eventual full motorway with high design speed, and access control?

Doubled capital spending

Hal Worrall, OOCEA CEO, says the capital spending of the authority is being doubled. Work has begun on 3rd laning of the FL-408 (East-West Expressway). On the FL-417 (Central Florida Greeneway) the University Main toll plaza is being widened for extra cash lanes on the outside, preparatory to getting 2x2 ETX lanes – design speed 70mph – installed in the center for full highway speed electronic tolling. Work has begun on a new interchange on the FL-528 (Bee Line Exwy) serving a new an extension of an arterial Goldenrod Road (FL-551) to the Bee Line and on into the airport. And there’s major pavement renewal going on in the older sections of the system.

Worrall says he hopes to convert all eleven existing mainline toll plazas will have open road ET-express lanes within a decade.

Five new pikes, 2 HOTLs in study

Five new toll roads and two HOT lanes projects are possible by 2025 according to the OOCEA’s 2025 Masterplan – the result of responses to a survey sent to recipients of its EXPRESSWAY NAVIGATOR NEWSLETTER (a gaudy & glossy rag, we sadly report, printed with a tasteless excess of the Authority’s purple and orange brand colors, but quite informative once you manage to tune out the tropic-glitz.) No fewer than 3,500 Orlandoans responded to the NEWSLETTER survey and there was wide support for seven projects. Several of them are way outside the city of Orlando and Orange county and would require cooperative arrangements with other counties or an expansion of OOCEA’s legislated geographic spread.

Two toll express projects are already being considered by the OOCEA and are relatively nearterm projects. The first is toll express lanes along about 30km (18mi) of I-4, the major northeast-southwest freeway through the middle of Orlando. A second is an elevated express facility above one of the north-south signalized arterials – Semoran Blvd FL-436 or Orange Av – to provide better linkage between the airport and the CBD. Both would probably require dynamic pricing to most efficiently compete with free lanes alongside.

The five new toll roads (see map p24) proposed by OOCEA patrons going clockwise from noon, include

(1) a new northeast radial called the FL-415 Extension from FL-417 at Lake Jesup to I-95 at IC-84 near New Smyrna Beach. This parallels I-4 about 12km (7.5mi) east of it.

(2) an eastern extension of the FL-408 (East-West Exwy) along the route of FL-50 to I-95 and the main entry road to Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center, also a relief road for the Bee Line Exwy [to be called the Far Eastern or, better, Oriental Way]

(3) Pineda Extension, a southeasterly link between the FL-417 at the southern gate of the Orlando airport to I-95 near Melbourne

(4) a so-far unnamed southwesterly road looping down to I-4 at the northern Polk Parkway IC

(5) a westerly extension from the northern end of the Western Exwy (FL-429) through Lake County to I-75 in the Oxford area

Worrall made the interesting point at a recent ITS America lunch in Washington DC that electronic tolling (ET) is more than just a simpler cheaper and more efficient way to collect tolls. He said that with manual toll collection the toll collectors know the faces of the regular customers but that the toll authority doesn’t really know them. Now with so many customers establishing ET transponder accounts (paraphrasing from memory): “We now know our customer’s names, how many vehicles they have, where they come from. We can call them up and survey them. We can organize focus groups. We can mail them stuff, email them. We can have groups of them to lunch and get to know them. We can really interact with our customers in a quite new way, and tailor what services we provide much more closely to their needs. This can change the whole way we do business, and the kind of business we are.”

The Orlando area population is close to 1.6m making it the 30th metro area in the US. It has been growing 2 to 2.5% annually. But OOCEA traffic has been growing at double-digit annual percentages. In 1999 OOCEA toll roads did 166m transactions (455k/day), up 11% over 1998 and double the number of 1994.

Its 1999 centerline mileage was 79 (126-km). It had – prior to FL-429 opening – 10 mainline toll plazas and 38 ramp plazas. OOCEA was the pioneer of electronic tolling in Florida and has over 200k tags on the road and they execute approaching 50% of toll transactions. Roll-through ET, retrofitted to the existing toll plazas is credited with helping accommodate substantial annual increases in traffic without the need for toll plaza widenings. Roll-through, lane-constrained ET is signed for 35mph, recently increased from 25mph. The toll authority board is considering graduated withdrawal of ET privileges for toll plaza speeders.

OOCEA’s revenues were $112m last year against which operations cost $20.2m, other current expenses and depreciation $18m. Net interest on debt was $46m for a profit of $28m. Toll collection, maintenance and some other services are contracted out but the Authority does its own customer service.

CEO Hal Worrall keeps busy, not only running the toll system, but holding top positions in IBTTA and ITS America, and teaching at a local university. (Steve Pustelnyk 407 316 3830 oocea.com)


Leave a comment: