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Florida Turnpike pulls the plug on Seminole express lanes on S.R. 417

Florida Turnpike pulls the plug on Seminole express lanes on S.R. 417
CFX Board member Brenda Carey informs chariman Wenton Caldwell and the rest of the board that the Florida Turnpike Enterprise has canceled a controversial $125 million express lane project on State Road 417. (Laura Kinsler)

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise has pulled the plug on a controversial express lane project on State Road 417 in Seminole County.

Seminole County Commissioners, the Central Florida Expressway Authority and MetroPlan Orlando had all been trying for the last year to halt the $125 million widening project that would have added higher-tolled express lanes on the existing toll road, also known as the Seminole Expressway.

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Seminole County Commissioner Brenda Carey opened Thursday's CFX board meeting with the monumental announcement. The Turnpike officially informed Carey on Tuesday that it was suspending the project.

The six-mile widening project would have extended from the Orange County line to S.R. 434, just south of Lake Jessup. It involved the addition of two express lanes in each direction. Those managed lanes would utilize "dynamic tolling," meaning the toll rate would increase during peak traffic periods.

That section of the road is owned by the state and operated by the Turnpike Enterprise. The FDOT was scheduled to award construction bids this summer.

"They're interested in pursuing projects where the community actually wants to partner with them," Carey said.

The dispute comes down to a basic philosophical difference between local officials and the state agencies over whether to charge motorists a "toll within a toll" to drivers who use the new express lanes. CFX and MetroPlan officials took the position that if a toll road needs additional capacity, it should be widened.

The MetroPlan board had threatened to remove the 417 project from its Transportation Improvement Plan, but dropped that effort last month after learning it would have no effect on the construction schedule.

CFX Executive Director Laura Kelley said she is still actively pursuing efforts to negotiate a purchase or swap with FDOT of that section of the 417.

CFX offered to buy the state-owned sections of the 417 from the Turnpike. Kelley said her board wants to have jurisdiction over all the toll roads within the urban area, with exception to the main Turnpike.

FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold has told local officials the road isn't for sale, but the state would be willing to swap 18 miles of the 417 and 11 miles of S.R. 429 that the state owns for 23 miles the CFX owns of S.R. 528, which connects Interstate 4 with Cocoa on the east coast.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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