i-4 Ultimate

February 2022

* I-4 Express Opening This Weekend
* History of I-4: The Forgotten Roots of the Road That Would Remake Central Florida
* How Does FDOT Decide To Use Concrete or Asphalt on Roads?
* Residents Learn About Upcoming Sand Lake Road Improvements

I-4 Express Opening This Weekend


Central Florida motorists will soon have a new transportation option that should make traffic flow more smoothly and make trips more reliable on Interstate 4 (I-4).

With infrastructure construction of the I-4 Ultimate project complete, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) anticipates opening the managed lanes, known locally as I-4 Express, to motorists on Saturday, February 26.

Crews will begin opening access points of I-4 Express early Saturday morning. All eastbound and westbound lanes of I-4 Express are anticipated to be open to traffic by 10 a.m.

FDOT understands Central Florida motorists have been eagerly anticipating the opening of the managed lanes. To encourage drivers to try I-4 Express, there will be no charge to access the managed lanes during the first five days of operations. Drivers have an opportunity to take free trips to determine if I-4 Express makes sense for their commute or travel plans.

With this new update, drivers can use the express lanes at no charge through Wednesday, March 2. Starting Thursday, March 3, an introductory rate will be set at 50 cents per tolling segment. Traveling the entire length of I-4 Express will cost $3.50 eastbound and $3.00 westbound during the introductory period.

Vehicles with two axles are allowed in I-4 Express. Vehicles with three or more axles are not allowed unless they are designated emergency vehicles. Examples of vehicles with three or more axles may include trucks, large recreational vehicles (RVs), and vehicles pulling trailers.

Some temporary congestion is expected as the new travel choice opens, and motorists adjust to new traffic patterns. Please remember to drive safely and be patient.

Motorists can use the interactive map at i4express.com/plan-your-trip before getting behind the wheel to see where to enter and exit I-4 Express based on their destination.

I-4 Express, which extends from just west of Kirkman Road (State Road (S.R.) 435) in Orange County to just east of S.R. 434 in Seminole County, is separated from the general use lanes by a concrete barrier wall with limited access points to support longer trips.

During emergencies, whether in the general use lanes or I-4 Express, use the shoulders and wait for first responders. Road Rangers, who can be reached by dialing *347 (*FHP), will also be available to assist first responders as well as make minor mechanical repairs. Before heading out, drivers can visit FL511.com or use the Florida 511 Mobile App for important I-4 traffic information and incident alerts. Once on the road, have a passenger check to avoid using a phone while behind the wheel.


History of I-4: The Forgotten Roots of the Road That Would Remake Central Florida

Construction of Interstate 4 in Orlando - including this area south of downtown - was completed in 1965.

Interstate 4 (I-4) has played such a large role in the lives of Central Floridians and in the rise of our region as an economic power that it may seem like the road has been here nearly as long as the sandy soils below it.

But back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when civic leaders talked about an interstate, some residents balked. They didn’t see the need for a transportation backbone. After all, Orlando was still very much a citrus town, and Orange County had about 200,000 residents compared to 1.4 million today. There were no theme parks, huge public universities, big hotels, or burgeoning high-tech and health care sectors.

So today, as the massive I-4 Ultimate project starts to wrap up and the new express lanes prepare to open to improve safety and mobility in a growing region, it’s a good time to recall the history of the roadway and the national movement behind its construction.

Origins in the Eisenhower Administration

I-4 arrived in Central Florida in the early 1960s as part of the national effort to link cities and states by a network of modern highways. At the time, long-distance travel by car often meant coping with slow-moving local roads, frustrating stoplights, and jarring potholes.

The effort to create a national interstate system began officially in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved the legislation to fund it.

Eisenhower had foreseen the need for a modern road system after witnessing Germany’s high-speed highways when he led Allied forces to victory over the Nazi regime in World War II. The future president realized the advanced highway had helped move military and civilian supplies in war and peace.

I-4 Opens New Era for Orlando

In March 1965, I-4 opened in Orlando. Engineers designed it to handle 70,000 vehicles per day. As the region grew, the busiest sections handled more than 200,000 a day, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) worked to keep pace by adding lanes and interchanges.

In 2015, faced with limited room to expand, FDOT broke ground on the long-planned I-4 Ultimate – the 21-mile makeover and expansion through the heart of Orlando. Designed to help meet current demands, the road also can support future advances in transportation.

Monumental Game-Changer

In 1963, the under-construction interstate caught the eye of Walt Disney, who was scouting locations for the new theme park he would announce two years later.

Disney realized the new highway could carry thousands of visitors to an area south of Orlando where his second and larger theme park would open in 1971. While Walt Disney World drove the area toward a new future, I-4 turned out to be a necessary element in the transformation from small town to international renown.

Over the decades, the question of managing growth while minimizing negative impacts has remained vital. But there is no question that I-4 stimulated economic growth and promoted a diversity of businesses – all while becoming an essential part of the daily supply chain that keeps Central Florida thriving.

See next month’s newsletter for Part 2: Present-day I-4.


How Does FDOT Decide To Use Concrete or Asphalt on Roads?

The I-4 Ultimate project used a combination of asphalt and concrete to rebuild the interstate. Concrete was used for the express lanes, and asphalt was used for the reconstructed general use lanes.

The 21-mile stretch of the I-4 Ultimate project consists of both concrete and asphalt driving surfaces.

Both materials are considered excellent for road building, and each has its strong points. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) chose to use both materials in the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project because of the different challenges posed by the complete makeover and expansion of Interstate 4 (I-4) in Central Florida.

The six general use lanes (three in each direction) and the auxiliary lanes are made of asphalt. The four express lanes (two in each direction) are composed of concrete.

Why use one material on the general use lanes and another on the express lanes? In general, it comes down to ease of repair, time needed to complete the work, and the difficulty in bringing in large, expensive machinery to fix roadway problems.

The concrete pavement in I-4 Express is expected to last 50 years without significant repairs. Asphalt used in the general use lanes is expected to go 10-15 years without major maintenance.

Though it lasts longer, the concrete lanes cost more and take longer to build. They also require a much longer period to cure than asphalt. Any significant repair to the concrete means replacing long slabs of pavement. Such work could take days or weeks to complete.

By contrast, repairs to asphalt can be done within a much shorter period and do not usually require tearing up large stretches of roadway. They can be ready for traffic within hours of completing the repairs.

Rather than deal with repairs every 10 years in express lanes, FDOT chose a material that should not need maintenance for a half-century. And by 2072, new machinery, technology, and materials may create easier options.

On the other hand, the crews making repairs to asphalt lanes do not require huge equipment. If the proper safety precautions are taken, the crews may not have to shut down more than one lane while working. That makes asphalt a better choice for the six general use lanes.

General use lanes made of asphalt represent 68 percent of the total lane miles of I-4 Ultimate. The managed lanes made of concrete represent 32 percent of the total lane miles within the 21-mile project.


Residents Learn About Upcoming Sand Lake Road Improvements


On February 10, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held a public information meeting about upcoming improvements to I-4, including the interchanges at Sand Lake Road and Daryl Carter Parkway. FDOT hosted the event encouraging people to learn about the changes taking place in their communities as part of the I-4 Beyond the Ultimate project.

The new, diverging diamond interchange (DDI) at I-4 and Sand Lake Road will eliminate left-hand turns across traffic, increasing safety while reducing the time it takes motorists to travel through the intersection. In addition, a new off-ramp directly onto Turkey Lake Road will further increase safety by making it easier to merge.

The meeting also informed residents of the planned interchange to be constructed at I-4 and Daryl Carter Parkway. The current overpass will be converted into a DDI with exit ramps from I-4 and an eastbound I-4 entrance ramp from Daryl Carter Parkway. A westbound I-4 entrance ramp from Daryl Carter Parkway will be added as part of a later project.

The Sand Lake Road interchange serves many Orange County communities, including International Drive, Doctor Phillips, Bay Hill, and Tangelo Park. Additionally, it provides access to the Orange County Convention Center, nearby attractions, hospitals, and other important destinations. Over 90 community members attended the meeting in-person with many others attending virtually.