Benefit of virus shutdown: Orlando’s snarl interchange fixed early
Revamping one of the nation’s busiest highways is challenging, dangerous and full of headaches.

Coronavirus closures allowed crews to expedite work.

Yes, less traffic on the roads during the coronavirus crisis has benefits, as Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed out Monday in overseeing the dramatically-sped up completion of a new interchange for Interstate 4 and State Road 408 in downtown Orlando,

The completion and opening of five new ramps serving that interchange means that for the first time ever, really, drivers will be able to move logically and seamlessly between Orlando’s two most important expressways, each carrying more than 150,000 vehicles per day.

With the coronavirus crisis shutting down much of the economy and therefore greatly reducing traffic, DeSantis said he instructed Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault to find ways to expedite construction on the interchange, as part of the multi-year, multi-billion dollar “Ultimate I-4” project to expand and improve I-4 through greater Orlando.

“This is the biggest milestone of the project to date and it will undoubtedly transform the heart of our state’s transportation system,” Thibault said Monday.

He and DeSantis made the announcement atop one of the new ramps that would create more of a half-cloverleaf interchange at the intersection of Central Florida’s two busiest and most important highways. Previously drivers were sent over and around in various wrong directions, sometimes having to scissor-weave through traffic going elsewhere, in order to eventually wind up where they wanted to go. And for more than a year, that’s been even more complicated as FDOT contractors installed temporary ramps in order to rework the bad ones.

According to DeSantis, the efforts allow FDOT to open the new interchange ramps three months earlier than scheduled, and even six weeks earlier than he and Thibault had envisioned when they first contemplated speeding up the work in April to take advantage of the drop in traffic.

The interchange connects I-4 with SR 408, also known as the East-West Expressway, which is owned and operated by the Central Florida Expressway Association. I-4, though officially known as an east-west highway, is Orlando’s primary north-south expressway. The East-West Expressway is, as the name suggests, Orlando’s primary east-west route.

“This 408 exchange is the busiest portion of the Ultimate I-4 project. These improvements will improve safety, ease of movement to commerce, and most importantly enhance Central Floridians commutes as we ease back to a full-functioning Central Florida economy,” DeSantis said.

The interchange is not the only major transportation construction project being accelerated during the traffic slowdown. DeSantis also cited work in Tampa Bay and Miami, though he did not get specific.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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