Orlando International Airport and state transportation officials have asked the Osceola County Expressway Authority and its consultant to consider changing the alignment of the proposed Osceola Parkway Extension (OPE) and redesign the interchange at S.R. 417, to give drivers on the new toll road unfettered access to and from the airport.
The proposal would force the OCX to restart the public input process for the western and central segments of the new toll road that were approved last May. But that delay is a small price to pay for what could be the dream scenario.
In addition to giving drivers on OPE a straight shot to the airport, the proposed plan could eliminate much of the headache and expense involved in right-of-way acquisition for the new road. And it has unanimous support from Orlando and Orange County officials - many of whom opposed the road alignment last year - and from developers.
All of those advantages could even make the $800 million toll road more attractive to investors as OCX preps to go out to bid for a public-private-partnership.
The current design includes a three-way interchange with S.R. 417 and the new OPE, but motorists would have had to exit about a mile and a half south of the interchange onto Boggy Creek Road to get to the airport.
"The intent, when the project started, was to insure we could connect to S.R. 417 so we could plug into the regional system," OCX Executive Director Jeff Jones told GrowthSpotter. "The second reason was to provide a way to the get to the airport using the parkway. It became clear that to do both and have direct access via OPE was an expensive proposition, and there wasn't at that time much support for it. Over time, that has changed."
On Feb. 12, the Central Florida Expressway Authority will open its new airport flyover interchange with S.R. 417. Stan Thornton, chief operating officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said the new interchange will improve traffic flow around the airport, and ultimately shift to the south from the north the majority of vehicles coming in and out of the facility.
The development comes as the airport is embarking on a roughly $2 billion project to build a terminal on the southern part of its property, and to construct a giant parking facility for Brightline (formerly known as All Aboard Florida) and other rail systems, as well as putting in a peoplemover.
"We welcome" the new road configuration, Thornton said.
They proposed the new interchange design, and also suggested shifting the toll road east so it would no longer run parallel to Boggy Creek Road. The new proposed alignment would go southeast through Medical City and then veer south onto the airport's Poitras property.
"They worked out a design that satifies their needs," Jones said. "They moved that leg of the expressway east of Boggy Creek Road. It reduces the need for us to buy right-of-way from private owners and allows us to deal just with the airport. This is significant."
Tate said Turnpike officials are currently running traffic models on two proposed alignments. Those studies should be done by early February.
"If we can have direct access into the airport it sounds like a win for everybody and makes our negotiation for right-of-way easier," OCX Chairman Atlee Mercer said. "I think this is a radical improvement. And Orange County was involved in the process – so we're not going to be surprised like we were last time."
Tate said the additional study might add two months to the project schedule, but the public meeting could be combined with the unveiling of the preferred alternative for the toll road's eastern alignment. OCX has $70 million already budgeted this year for design and right-of-way acquisition for the parkway extension.
Reporter Karen Talley contributed to this report.