The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has a grand plan to expand I-4 well beyond the cones and lane shifts that drivers in Central Florida face today. However, those plans could be changing, in part, because of the lengthy delays of the current “I-4 Ultimate” expansion and the lack of answers being given to Congress about why it is taking so long.
The I-4 Ultimate project was scheduled to be finished in 2021 with two toll lanes running in each direction down the center of the interstate from Kirkman Road south of Orlando to the Longwood rest area in Seminole County. That project is now reportedly at least nine months behind schedule.
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., said the construction is causing “chaos” for commuters and is demanding the FDOT and contractors tell her how much it is over budget and how long it will take to complete. So far, she has received no answers.
“It’s not the answers I deserve, this is the answers Central Floridians deserve. This is taxpayer dollars that are going into a major expansion of a major thoroughfare,” Murphy said.
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., called the FDOT not responding “disappointing.” He is ready to put restrictions on the next phase of construction. Soto said if that next round of construction happens, there will be restrictions on the federal dollars used in the project.
“We would simply put in proviso language requiring them to respond to these matters as a contingency. There’s a way to use the budget package to encourage better communication,” Soto said.
Murphy won’t even look at the potential $1 billion dollars in federal funds it will take to build toll lanes from Longwood across the St. Johns River into Volusia County and from Kirkman Road to the west of Disney.
“What I’m focused on now is making sure the dollars are executed in a way that is timely and on budget,” Murphy said. “We will have to look at each project and make sure that the parameters of that project doesn’t lead us into the situation that we currently have on I-4”
As for Soto, he is committed to getting the funding needed for the next phase of I-4 construction and believes some, if not all, of that money will be included in the massive infrastructure bill being worked on in the U.S. House. What Soto will not commit to yet is making those four new lanes a toll road through the middle of I-4.
“Designs have been done, but certainly those things can be changed, and I expect we will be working with our local and state governments to see if we can do it another way. Certainly, all options are on the table,” Soto said.
If there are no tolls on the new stretch of road, there may not be private investment in building it, leaving that for the government to complete. In the current agreement done during then Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, a private company is financing a large part of the project to build the road and will get to keep the profits from tolling the center lanes of I-4. The federal government chipped in more than $1 billion for rebuilding I-4. However, when the project is finished, there will be the exact same number of free lanes for drivers as there were when construction began in 2015.
Reach Mike Synan at Mike.Synan@floridadaily.com.