Central Florida gets first taste of express lanes on SR-528

The first express lanes in central Florida open up today.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Central Florida’s first taste of express lanes won’t be on I-4.

The first express lanes opened Tuesday on a 4 mile stretch of State Road 528 between I-4 and McCoy Road.  The $170 million project widened the toll road from four to eight lanes across and increases the speed limit to 55 mph.

However, the extra lanes aren’t costing drivers extra money just yet.

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Florida’s Turnpike, which owns the section of State Road 528, has not instituted congestion pricing for drivers despite signs already hanging over the road. Once the signs are activated, drivers will see pricing that fluctuates based on congestion on the road. Currently the signs indicate the lanes are open and that “no trucks” are allowed.

“They are still express lanes because the local traffic is encouraged to stay to the right for traffic going a mile or two down the road,” said Katie Mitzner, a spokesperson for Florida’s Turnpike. She added express lanes on the left are for those going the whole 4-mile stretch.

Currently the express lanes are designated by what is called skip striping, which is different from the traditional road striping drivers are accustomed to seeing. The unique striping pattern allows drivers to travel in and out of the express lanes whenever they want.

Mitzner could not provide information on when drivers would eventually be charged to use the express lanes. She said implementing the fluctuating pricing structure is dependent on driver behavior, congestion and nearby construction on the Turnpike and I-4.

Once drivers are charged, the express lanes will be separated from the traditional toll lanes by orange markers secured to the ground. The markers will then limit access in and out of the express lanes. Past renderings released by the Turnpike show there would be limited on- and off-ramps between I-4 and McCoy Road.

Drivers will also need a transponder in their vehicle to travel in the express lanes because cash and Toll-by-Plate will not be accepted. Drivers can face a $25 penalty plus tolls for the violation.

The 528 express lanes had received criticism in the past from locals and business owners who were worried tourists would get confused by the limited access road. Some of those worries were still evident Tuesday with locals.

“They don’t know where they are going to begin with. They are all over place,” said Christine Agresta, who has been watching the project with her husband since construction started.

Central Florida drivers and visitors will need to get used to the concept of express lanes and congestion pricing.

Construction workers are currently widening I-4 to add express lanes down the middle of the interstate to offer drivers an alternative to the frequently congested free lanes used today. When those express lanes on I-4 will open is still unclear. Past reports by Eyewitness News have cited an eight-month delay with the project.

But for now, drivers can familiarize themselves with the idea of driving fast through congestion and they won’t have to pay while doing it.

“Express lanes are a new concept for Central Florida,” Mitzner said. “We just want customers to get used to the idea so that local traffic stays right and express lanes stay left.”