Orlando is in the midst of a road construction boom and frankly, a whole lot of Central Florida roads are a total pain to drive on. We wrote about the various projects just about a year ago, and guess what? With just a few exceptions at Walt Disney World, they’re all still going on.
Construction on one particular toll road is about halfway done, and it’s the one that visitors going between MCO and the tourist corridor should be most aware of…
Route FL-528, which is just north of MCO, runs east-west and if you take it westward, it’s one of the two major roads between MCO and WDW (Lake Buena Vista & Bay Lake on the map above). It’s also the closest major highway to Universal and International Drive if you’re coming from MCO. Construction on 8 miles of S.R. 528, between Orlando International Airport and I-4 began in 2016 and although it was slated to be done by mid-2019, it’s only about halfway finished (awesomesauce.). The construction is widening the road to allow for (surprise!) Express Lanes that will use congestion pricing. That means the prices for the Express Lanes, if you use them, will apparently vary depending on traffic (the more traffic there is, the higher the cost will be. It’s like surge pricing). On paper and to the public, it’s said to be a part of the FDOT’s (Florida Dep’t of Transportation) long term congestion relief program. So I guess if you’ll want congestion relief, you’ll have to pay for it? 😡
Like I said, they’re about halfway done with the project – the Express Lanes between I-4 and Orange Blossom Trail exit (Rt. 441 on the map above, officially the exit for US 17/US 92/US 441 / Florida’s Turnpike) are now open, however, happily, they’re not charging people for using them yet. But they will (they haven’t said when that will start, but really, all it’ll take is a “flip of a switch”). And when they do, you better be ready.
What should you be “ready” for?
Once they start charging for the use of the Express Lanes, if you wind up taking those lanes, even by mistake, you’re going to have to pay extra for the privilege of using them. The cost will vary from 25 cents upward (FDOT hasn’t given any hints of what prices will be but I suspect the ceiling will be significantly higher than a quarter), depending on the amount of congestion on the non-Express Lane road. That’s on top of the regular 2 tolls between MCO and I-4.
And here’s the kicker…customers must have a SunPass, or another interoperable transponder such as the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s (CFX) E-Pass, to travel in the Express Lanes, as no cash or Toll-by-Plate will be accepted (no word if the toll tags that are currently being piloted would count). Drivers can face a $25 penalty plus tolls for the violation.
Isn’t THAT special?
Frankly, I think that even 50 cents would be too much to save me 10 minutes in traffic. I also believe that most visitors arriving from MCO will have NO CLUE about these Express Lanes and FDOT better have forgiveness of the tolls and penalty for people who don’t live here and won’t know any better. Unfortunately, I know that won’t help one bit, cuz, except for a survey about what I thought about these new Express Lanes, they didn’t consult with me. But saying it made me feel better.
Anyway, should you come to Orlando and take the 528 westbound, or are taking it eastbound to go back to MCO, be aware of the Express Lanes – and make sure to STAY TO THE RIGHT to avoid them!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary