I-4 expansion project budget could grow by $1 billion



ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - On Thursday, Eyewitness News and our partners at the Orlando Business Journal leaned that a massive expansion project for Interstate 4 could get even bigger.

The state is already planning to widen 20 miles of I-4, but now the state is considering spending about another $ 1 billion to expand the project by another 26 miles to the east and west.

Getting through the gridlock is something Central Floridians have just learned to deal with.

"Congested," said one driver.

"It's heavy," said another.

But we're now entering an age on I-4 where paying up will get you out of traffic because federal and state funding just is not enough to cover the cost of making the road wider.

"Transportation funding is kind of in crisis right now," said Cynthia Lambert, Metro Plan Orlando spokesperson.

Metro Plan told Eyewitness News that adding toll lanes is the best way to fund the additional expansion into Polk and Volusia counties.  It would work much like the upcoming expansion in metro Orlando planned for 2014, between Kirkman Road and the city of Longwood.

The only difference is this other phase won't happen at least for another 20 years.

"Our population in Central Florida is expected to double by 2050, so we will see a lot more continued congestion," said Lambert.

Eyewitness News asked the Florida Department of Transportation why it needs to spend $1 billion to expand the Interstate even more if it is expecting SunRail to alleviate traffic.

"We always believe there is more of a demand for I-4 than what is out there now.  In other words, even if we take the folks to SunRail, there's still pent up demand to use I-4," said Steve Olson, FDOT spokesman.

Before I-4 can expand beyond the metro Orlando area, Metro Plan still needs to ask drivers what they think.  The agency plans to do that at its next meeting in July.

FDOT told Eyewitness News the current expansion project between Kirkman Road and the city of Longwood is still moving ahead as planned.  It is finalizing plans for the toll roads so drivers can use the same transponders they have now.