Interstate 4, the road that runs east-west (but really more southwest-northeast) through most of the central part of Florida, including the theme park corridor, has had a traffic problem for decades. To alleviate this issue in the Orlando area, a construction project headed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has been in the works for the past 7 years.
Called the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, the construction has been running from Altamonte Springs (a few miles north of Downtown Orlando) to just east of the Universal Studios area. The $2.4 billion overhaul of 21 miles of I-4 in Orange and Seminole counties has straightened some dangerous curves, included some new/different exits and exchanges, and added two new lanes of traffic in each direction.
Safer curves and easier entry/exits are nice, but it’s the new lanes of traffic that tourists will want to look out for. That’s because they haven’t changed the roads from 3 or 4 free lanes of traffic to 5 or 6 of the same. Instead, the 2 new lanes will be tolled. They’re called I-4 Express and they go into effect today, February 26, 2022.
Instead of having fixed prices, the 2 new lanes of traffic, both closer to the central median, will have toll pricing that will adjust based on traffic volumes. This is being done in an effort to manage congestion. The more traffic there is on I-4, the higher the rate will be to use the I-4 Express lanes.
Whatever the current toll rate is at any given moment, it’ll be displayed on overhead electronic signs in advance of each entrance. Drivers will be able to pay using an active, properly mounted SunPass, E-Pass, Peach Pass, NC Quick Pass, LeeWay or, thanks to when it finally became usable throughout the state of Florida, E-Z Pass. You can also use a Visitor Toll Pass (it’s run by SunPass), which is probably one of the cheapest ways for tourists to go through tolls in the area. Heads up that cash or TOLL-BY-PLATE option will NOT be available and a $25 toll violation plus the cost of tolls will be imposed on drivers who use these lanes and don’t have an interoperable transponder.
The I-4 Express lanes are similar to the Express lanes they’re building on the 528/Beachline (that’s one of the roads that runs between MCO and I-4. As of this writing, you still don’t have to pay for them).
According to the FDOT, I-4 Express will be free for the first five days after it opens. Then, effective March 3rd, it will have an introductory/testing period, wherein to travel the entire length of I-4 Express will cost $3.50 eastbound and $3.00 westbound. They don’t say how long the introductory period will last, but the testing phase will provide FDOT with data to enable the transition to a fully dynamic toll. They don’t say how much the range of costs for the I-4 Express will be, once its dynamic toll is fully operational.
For those who remain in the theme park corridor (Disney to Universal), the I-4 Express shouldn’t affect your travels at this time. But for those who venture out to see Downtown Orlando (say, to go to a concert, museum or one of the sports arenas) and beyond, you could bump into it. So again, be aware. Also, keep in mind that this is just the first phase of the Ultimate I-4 Project; future phases will include I-4 around the Disney and Universal areas. Case in point, Crossroads, the shopping center just off I-4 and across from Disney Springs, is in the midst of being demolished to make way for a new exit off I-4 that will feed directly into the Disney Springs shopping and dining area.
Feature Photo: FDOT
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