If you normally drive to Walt Disney World or rent a car while you’re in Central Florida, you may notice there’s been a LOT of construction going on the roads, not only on Disney property but particularly the public highways in the surrounding area. Here’s what’s been happening.
Here’s a map of the area, and an explanation of the roads and areas I’ll be discussing:
- I-4 runs SW to NE, and then starts going due north
- Not labeled on the map, but just as a point of interest, Universal Orlando Resort is due east of Lake Butler, and just west of I-4
- SR 417 starts at I-4 at Celebration and makes a rough counter-clockwise half circle
- SR 429 starts at I-4 just NE of Champions Gate and runs north, then NE, in a rough clockwise circle (eventually it’s supposed to connect with the 417, north of this map)
- SR 528 runs east-west, just north of Orlando Int’l Airport
- Florida’s Turnpike runs roughly SE to NW, crossing I-4 just NW of Oak Ridge
Got it? OK good…let’s ride!
I-4 (which you’d think, by the name, would connect Florida to another state. It doesn’t.) is in the midst of something called the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project. It’s a multi-phase, multi-year project that started in 2015 and the first phase is scheduled to be completed in 2021. If you’re at Disney and have driven as far as Universal Studios (and beyond) on I-4, you’ve probably seen some of it, since that’s where the construction begins. The current construction runs for 21 miles, from west of Kirkman Road (in Orange County – by Universal) to east of State Road 434 in Seminole County.
The project’s overall goal is to widen the road, which includes widening 13 bridges, replacing 74 of them and adding 53 of them. 15 major interchanges will undergo complete reconstruction. New express lanes with dynamic electronic-only toll pricing (informally known as “Lexus Lanes“) will be added to the center of I-4, two in each direction, and the general use and auxiliary lanes will be rebuilt. The posted speed will be increased from 50 to 55 mph.
When that segment of the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project is complete, they will begin another 21 miles of construction, called I-4 Beyond The Ultimate SOUTH, going from the Kirkman Road exit west to U.S. 27 (read: going past Sea World, Disney, Celebration and Champion’s Gate before ending at Clermont/Davenport). There is also to be construction, called I-4 Beyond the Ultimate NORTH (of course), which will cover the area of I-4 north of S.R. 434. Click here for a PDF of the map and click here for an all-encompassing website of the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project.
FUN FACT (not)! I-4 is currently designated the most dangerous highway in America by GPS tracking company, Teletrac Navman. And no wonder…thanks to the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, roads can take new turns nearly every day, “exit only” lanes appear and disappear, road entries and exits move daily…and besides confusing drivers who don’t know the area well, it’s even playing with the minds of well seasoned Central Floridians. So please…if you’re driving on I-4 between now and 2021, pay extra special attention to your surroundings!
The Greeneway is a toll road just south of Orlando International Airport (MCO) and is one of the two roads that, if you go west, will take you towards WDW. About a mile east of the Orange Blossom Trail/Rt 441 exit, the 417 crosses over Florida’s Turnpike. The two roads didn’t used to be connected but they are in the midst of making an interchange at that junction. They completed half of the project a few years ago and are in the midst of completing the rest of it so you will be able to enter and exit both roads to/from the other in all directions. Both the 417 and the FL Tnpk are toll roads and there will be electronic-only tolls at this connecting point.
S.R. 429 is a toll road that starts at I-4, just a few miles west of WDW, and if you go north, it’s a quick way to get to Rt. 50, the 408 and the FL Tnpk. The road is still relatively new so it has no construction if its own but if you look to the right as you approach the exit for Rt. 192 (just about the S in “Four Corners” on the map), you’ll see a HUGE construction project. That will be Margaritaville, a 321-acre Jimmy Buffet-themed resort (If you’re an “old timer,” heads up that much of its property is where Splendid China used to be).
From GrowthSpotter.com: “The resort will include a 200-room Margaritaville hotel (to be the company’s fifth), 1,500 condos, timeshares and vacation rental homes with Key West-inspired design. The entire project is anchored by a 43-acre man-made lake and 3-acre swimming lagoon with a water park with its own public beach. The development plans also include a “FinCity” arcade, a St. Somewhere Spa, a planetarium, a Son of a Sailor fishing school, paddle boarding and kayaking.” The property will also have 200,000sf of retail and dining and a 324-unit apartment complex.
The 528 runs east-west, just north of MCO, and if you take it westward, is the other major road between MCO and WDW (if you take I-4 west when the 528 ends). Construction on 8 miles of S.R. 528, between Orlando International Airport and I-4 began in 2016 and is slated to be done by mid-2019. The construction is widening the road to allow for (surprise!) express lanes. Most of the 528, specifically east of the Orange Blossom Trail exit, is already a toll road, so drivers will have to pay two tolls to ride the express lanes on these roads, depending on which ramp they take.
I drive that area of the 528 several times a week and the signs for the express lanes are in the midst of being put up. Although the prices for the tolls will apparently vary depending on traffic (the more traffic there is, the higher the cost will be. It’s like surge pricing), you can see some of the printing on the signs and it looks like if you use the express lanes without a transponder, it will be considered a toll violation and you’ll have to pay a $25 penalty. Lovely.
Florida’s Turnpike is being widened from four to eight lanes, including two express lanes (geez, it’s like a disease…) in each direction, between Osceola Parkway (the squiggly road just about “Buena Ventura Lakes”) and the Beachline Expressway/SR 528. They’re also completing the interchange with the 417/Greeneway, as described above. Click here for a map of the construction.
Walt Disney World
On top of all this, there’s construction at WDW galore, with their building updated exits at the intersection of Epcot Center Drive and Buena Vista Drive, flyovers at the Magic Kingdom toll plaza and at ESPN Wide World of Sports, an expansion of Western Way (to make way for Flamingo Crossings), a bypass at Center Drive to ease the congestion at Reams Road, plus the Skyliner gondolas, and new lands, and new attractions, and new hotels and expanded parking lots at TTC and the Studios, and a third parking structure at Disney Springs, and everything else in the “world.” I suspect they’ll be done before any of the off-property road construction is finished – and that’s a GOOD thing!
* Feature photo via Smitten With Mickey
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