TAMPA FL:Suncoast Parkway opens
By Peter Samuel
With no tolls the southern plaza was seeing 18k veh/day and immediately after tolls began 12k, while the central plaza went from 16k to 10k veh/day with tolling.
Construction continues on a further 16km (10mi) to US-98, due to open late summer. The tollroad parallels US-19 along the coast and US-41 a couple of miles to its east and provides motorway standard service and connections to the Tampa Intl Airport, to the interstate highway system and Tampas expressway to a developing urban area along the northern coast.
The road is 2x2-lanes of asphalt pavement with a wearing surface of the FHWA-sponsored Superpave. It is built on a foundation of Floridas famous lime-rock, a natural mined material which rolls down to a concrete-like base and only requires a few inches of asphalt to give the equivalent strength to much thicker pavements. The top 20mm (3/4") is a porous draining layer to give vehicles better traction in heavy rain.
The tollroad has parallel bike and walking trails over virtually its whole length and is superbly landscaped and finished to match the countryside through which it passes. It has a 20m (65') central median avoiding the need for a concrete barrier and allowing for an extra 4 lanes if needed in the future. It has end interchanges with the Veterans Exwy and US-98, and five intermediate interchanges at FL-54, FL-52, County Line Rd, Spring Hill Dr, FL-50. There are three mainline barrier toll plazas and five pairs of ramp plazas.
The mainline toll plazas are unusual in that electronic-toll express (ETX) lanes are located on the outside of the cash lanes. Because they are designed for high speed the pair of outside lanes each side takes off from the lanes heading into the central conventional plaza at a considerable distance. From diverge point where the cash and ETX lanes split through to the converge point on the other side of the plaza is 2.9km (9,500ft) on the Suncoast. This compares with 0.8km (2,600ft) diverge-to-converge distance on mainline plaza with central ETX lanes on the Western Exwy nearby which was designed and is operated by the Orlando-Orange County Exwy Auth (OOCEA).
FDOT officials have explained that the Suncoast Parkway was designed and permitted several years ago when it was widely believed that cash would remain the dominant payment mode, and that a consolidated manual plaza would have advantages over the split manual plazas that accompany a central-ETX design. They say that they will build no further side-ETX lanes like this.
The Southern and Central mainline toll plazas will have 10 toll lanes in their inside manual segment where toll collectors will collect a dollar bill from motorists, and with the four additional ETX lanes on the outside these plazas will have a total of 14 toll lanes each. The Northern mainline plaza will have 6 cash lanes and 4 ETX.
The ETX lanes around Plazas 1 and 2 are blocked off for the moment as the FDOT contractor is testing the open road software. This will be the first multilane highway speed ET application by FDOT. The aim is to open the ETX lanes by the summer. Meanwhile motorists with the SunPass transponders are using mixed mode toll lanes in the central plaza.
The Suncoast Parkway is costing $507m or $1.9m/lane-km ($3.1m/lane-mi). It is expected to do 9k tolls/day in its first full year of operation growing to 114k in 2010.
The next stage (1 on map p10) of the Suncoast Pwy is in Citrus county another 42km (26mi) from the roads present terminus at US-98, north to US-19 between the Crystal and the Withlocoochie rivers. Preliminary design and engineering and the consideration of alternative alignments begin later this year with the aim to start detailed engineering design in 2004.
There have been plans (2 on map p10) to extend the mainline of Floridas Turnpike 65km (40mi) northwest from its present terminus at I-75 to meet US-19/98, the present coastal arterial at Lebanon, about 15km (10mi) north of the Withlo. R but this extension has been controversial with residents of the area. It is quite expensive tidal riverfront. This has caused FDOT to defer for the immediate future any plans for the extension.
I-75 the major interstate is 20km to 30km (12 to 20mi) inland from the Suncoast Pkwy (FL-589) and then diverges increasingly inland to head for Atlanta and the north. At some point, a tollway might be extended arcing right around the northwest coast of Florida - roughly along US19/98 to provide improved local mobility together with a more direct link between central Florida and Tallahassee FL and points west on I-10.
The present I-75/I-10 motorway standard route Tampa-Tallahassee is 440km (275mi) compared to 360km (225mi) by a coastal route (see 3 on map p10) of FL-589 and US-19/98. From Lebanon north a coastal road of about 220km (135mi) to Tallahassee could serve Miami and Orlando traffic, as well as Tampa traffic, bound for Tallahassee and points west, leaving I-75 for traffic headed into Georgia and the mid-west. Such a road would also contribute to coastal development, which of course is where it gets both cheers and jeers. (Contact Kimberlee Poulton 954 975 4855x1104, Joanne Hurley 727 856 4488 firstname.lastname@example.org)