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Revamping one of the nation’s busiest highways is challenging, dangerous and full of headaches.

Coronavirus in Florida

FDOT hitting the gas on infrastructure projects during COVID-19 slowdown

As little as a third of the normal traffic now traverses the section.

With Floridians ordered to stay home and economic activity in decline, transportation officials are taking advantage of reduced traffic across the state to put infrastructure projects in the fast lane.

Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ has pushed the Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Secretary Kevin Thibault to expedite the rework of a 21-mile stretch of Interstate 4 in Orange and Seminole counties. Now, with a third of the usual vehicles on that stretch of highway each day, the department looks to shave one to two months off the project timeline.

“The bottom line is we should take advantage of this pause,” DeSantis said. “People aren’t able to go to work, kids aren’t going to school, so there’s a lot of negatives involved. But the fact that we don’t have as many people on the roads, let’s take advantage of that and try to make some project, and that’s exactly what Kevin’s doing.”

FDOT has slated the westbound segment including the I-4 intersections with State Route 434 and, the biggest bottleneck on the highway, State Route 408. Thibault has challenged contractors to open the SR 408 interchange by Independence Day.

Closing additional lanes, and occasionally some neighboring less-traveled roads, will allow contractors to increase daytime construction and shift traffic onto what will be the final pavement.

“In many cases, even to put in the beams and so on, when an activity could be done in two days, it could actually take more than like nine days,” Thibault said. “They save time by getting this done and moving the traffic around.”

The state’s bill: still $2.3 billion for the entire project.

“Importantly, none of these changes will increase the cost to the Florida taxpayer,” the Governor said.

Traffic in the section can be between 100,000 and 120,000 vehicles per day. Thibault says now only 40,000 pass through the stretch.

The I-4 project is currently more than 250 days behind schedule

With the hit to tourism, the state has had the opportunity to close Cow Key Bridge in the Keys to make progress there. Each of FDOT’s eight districts has a project or two that is taking advantage of the slowdown.

Projects previously identified include construction of a new Howard Frankland Bridge that links Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, widening Southern Boulevard in western Palm Beach County, widening State Road 951 in southern Collier County, and the 23rd Street Flyover project at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 23rd Street in Bay County.

To comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines, contractors are devising ways to stay apart, such as when laying beams.

“Those that are helping that beam, they’ve developed a system where they have very incidental, close proximity to each other,” Thibault said. “They are just passing by like some of you pass by in a hallway.”

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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