- July 21, 2021
Ten years following the most recent widening of Florida’s Turnpike in West Orange County, the Florida Department of Transportation once again is evaluating the need for further improvements.
During a public kickoff open house at the Ocoee Lakeshore Center March 10, FDOT staff was on hand to meet with West Orange County residents about the Turnpike Widening Project Development and Environment Study.
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise recently began the study for widening Florida’s Turnpike from south of State Road 408 to State Road 50, as well as along S.R. 408 from the turnpike interchange to east of the Old Winter Garden Road overpass.
The purpose of the study is to determine the need and type of improvements necessary for the approximately 10-mile stretch. All interchanges within that distance, as well as the need for new interchanges, will be evaluated.
“One of the biggest impacts that we see here is the traffic, and traffic comes with the increase in population,” said Stephanie Eisenberg, public information specialist for FDOT. “You see all the growth that’s happening, and that causes problems with traffic. So what we’re trying to do is make sure that we can evaluate what could be better to ease the traffic congestion that people are suffering with now and what they’re suffering in the future.”
For context, Eisenberg said, the population of Orange County in 1980 was just under 470,000. Today, that number is close to 1.4 million.
“The way that we plan projects is we plan in the future, so we study what future road conditions will be, future population (projections), and we try to forecast to what will suit people by the year 2045 for this project,” Eisenberg said.
The main objective for the open house was to introduce the project and its purpose to residents it may impact. Public involvement is crucial in such projects, Eisenberg said, because ultimately it is the residents who drive in the area and can provide valuable insight into what could be improved.
“Every year, we look out 20 years (in) traffic projections, and this is an area where we identified a need about three years ago in terms of interchange and congestion,” said Josiah Barnet, a project manager with Florida’s Turnpike. “Now, when we’re looking out 20 years, there’s a need for additional capacity along the turnpike mainline through this part of West Orange County. There’s a lot of growth in West Orange, south Lake County and northwest Orange County all being funneled through this one interchange and one corridor.”
Florida’s Turnpike currently has eight to 12 lanes within the study limits. The study will evaluate widening the turnpike with and without managed lanes, plus auxiliary lanes. It also includes milling and resurfacing, bridge construction, and improvements and modifications to the existing interchanges at S.R. 408, S.R. 50 (Ocoee/Winter Garden), S.R. 429 and S.R. 50 (Clermont/Oakland).
Eisenberg said staff hopes to have some alternative options planned for a public meeting — during which people could review data and what the FDOT has been studying — by fall. She added that the project has not yet been funded for design or construction in the department’s five-year work program.
“We’ve had some people that just want information and want to know what’s going on — they got the postcard in the mail, they know that something’s coming, but we’re hoping to get more input,” she said. “In West Orange County and in Lake County, there’s a lot of commuters here. This is their day-to-day struggle, so what would make their lives easier? We’re trying to study that and see what we can do to help.”