Final Legs of Orlando Beltway are Under Construction
A Lasting Legacy: Regional Partnerships and Environmental Considerations Make Wekiva Parkway a Reality
After years of planning, the $1.6 billion Wekiva Parkway, the final section of a beltway around Orlando, Florida, is under construction, with several contractors making progress on the project.
“In addition to finishing the beltway and doing it in an environmentally sensitive way, the extent of regional cooperation makes this project a reality,” says Mary Brooks, Spokesperson for the Wekiva Parkway project.
Building the Wekiva Parkway has been a partnership between the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX), which built two sections in Orange County, and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), which is building the rest of the project in Lake and Seminole counties. Various state agencies, the local expressway authority, and local counties and municipalities came together to bring the project to fruition.
“That is a big part of the legacy of this project,” Brooks says.
Additionally, cities near the parkway are investing in utilities and infrastructure to prepare for future development near the road.
CFX built the 5-mile, $102.6 million Sections 1A and 1B, which opened in 2017, and is handling toll collection. Prince Contracting of Orlando and Superior Construction of Casselberry, Florida, completed the project sections, A and B respectively.
“It immediately relieved traffic on some of the local roads during morning and afternoon commutes,” Brooks says. “Now people have options.”
On average, the first section carries 16,000 trips daily.
The expressway authority completed the 5-mile Sections 2A, 2B and 2C, in March 2018. Superior built Section 2A; Southland Construction of Apopka, Florida, Section 2B; and GLF Construction of Orlando, Section 2C.
In addition to a 25-mile toll road, the project includes about $500 million in non-toll road improvements in anticipation of heavy traffic approaching or leaving the parkway. This work includes rebuilding the U.S. 441/SR 46 interchange in Mount Dora, widening 7 miles of SR 46 and shifting part of CR 46A out of the Seminole State Forest.
The agencies divided the project into 14 sections, and the state bid several using a design-build delivery method.
“You tailor it to the needs, funding and logistics,” said Steve Olson, Spokesman for FDOT. “It depends on complexities and funding opportunities.”
Section 4, the first segment built, opened in 2016, and was bid as design-build. The design-construction team was motivated to successfully complete the project, Brooks says.
“The design-build required the contractor to take ownership of the design and schedule, and they were highly motivated to get the first section built,” Brooks adds. “The design-build team came up with innovations to get that section built.”
The 2004 Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act mandated including a host of environmental protections in the project, because the road passes through environmentally sensitive lands. The Wekiva River is a nationally designated Wild and Scenic River and a Florida Outstanding Waterway. FDOT and CFX coordinated closely with the environmental community and agencies.
For years, many residents of Central Florida doubted the road would ever be built. However, CFX and FDOT made it happen, by purchasing large parcels totaling about 3,400 acres adjacent to the planned roadway. That acreage will be held in conservation along the corridor.
“This is something that had not been done before in Florida,” Brooks says. “You are not going to get the typical housing developments built along parkways.”
FDOT is building about 1.5 miles of wildlife tunnels, so bears and other animals can cross under the new road. Sections of the road have 10-foot-tall (including 2 feet underground) wildlife fencing and wildlife jump outs, which allow the animal to get back into the wildlife habitat. FDOT also has installed about six bat houses. Each holds 1,200 bats.
A Tour of the Project
Section 3A will widen 1.4 miles of non-tolled SR 46 and Section 3B will create a flyover interchange between U.S. 441 and SR 46 in Mount Dora. The flyover is being constructed with steel beams, which were being lifted into place earlier this year. GLF Construction is working on both sections.
Construction on 3A and 3B began in October 2017, and they will finish in the summer of 2020. Both sections include medians and turn lanes, drainage, lighting, sign and pavement markings, utilities, and other roadway features.
Sections 4A and 4B were built on one of the large parcels the agencies bought for conservation. The de Moya Group of Miami designed and built 4A and 4B, which opened in 2016.
“It gave the community the first look at the wildlife protections,” Brooks recalls.
Parkway protections include the non-tolled realignment of CR 46A to make a new connection to SR 46 near SR 429. This Section 5 project will result in about a mile of CR 46A being removed from the Seminole State Forest, eliminating conflicts between vehicles and wildlife.
FDOT purchased enough right-of-way to widen the new CR 46A alignment in the future. Halifax Paving of Ormond Beach, Florida, began work on this section in June 2017 and is expected to finish it in late 2019.
In Section 6, Superior Construction will replace the existing SR 46 through the state-owned land. The 6-mile, elevated four-lane, tolled parkway will run east-to-west. The project includes a parallel, non-tolled service road for local traffic, a new segmental bridge over the Wekiva River, several wildlife bridges and a multi-use trail. Work began in fall 2017 and is scheduled to wrap up in spring 2021.
The river bridge design evolved through suggestions at several charettes. It will stretch more than 2,100 feet long and stand about 60 feet high over the river. Piers will be placed on each shore, not in the water. The concrete piers feature a relief pattern meant to look like tree trunks.
“The idea was to get the bridge deck into the tree canopy to visually buffer it,” Brooks explains. “Also by raising the bridge, it opens up the waterway for kayakers and canoeists.”
Superior is building the non-tolled, service road bridge from the top down. The existing bridge will be demolished when the new one opens. Then Superior will build two more bridges to handle the eastbound and westbound parkway lanes.
The 3.53-mile Section 7A includes construction of a limited-access toll road to replace existing SR 46, and two service roads, one on each side of the tolled parkway. Astaldi Construction Corp. of Davie, Florida, also will build roundabouts at the major cross streets.
Section 7B has not been let yet. It will provide improvements to 1.87 miles of non-tolled SR 46. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2019 and finish in 2021.
The Lane Construction Corp. of Cheshire, Connecticut, received the contract for Section 8,which will connect the parkway to Interstate 4 and SR 417, another tolled road, which runs to the east of Orlando. This 2.63-mile section includes 20 bridges with numerous ramps. The project also will build general use lanes for a future I-4 improvement. Work began in fall 2018, with completion anticipated in 2022.
The entire Wekiva Parkway corridor features concrete reliefs, stained in tans and browns to resemble stone, and Romanesque façades adorn two of the CFX section bridges. It is the first expressway in Central Florida to feature all electronic tolling.
“We had tremendous challenges to overcome and yet, here we are,” Brooks concludes. “Everyone associated with it has been passionate about the project and all it can do.”
All photos courtesy of the Wekiva Parkway Project