The Florida Department of Transportation is studying the feasibility of building toll lanes on U.S. 192 stretching nearly 23 miles, from U.S. 27 in the Four Corners area to the Florida's Turnpike interchange east of Kissimmee.
Travis Hills, a traffic engineer with Kittelson & Associates, briefed members of the W192 Development Authority Thursday about the corridor study, which is still in its infancy. The firm was tasked with studying the feasibility of adding "mobility lanes" to the corridor that would be limited to transit and tolled vehicles.
"We're at the idea phase," Hills said. "This is a concept that's been talked about for a while."
The 2013 study pegged the cost at around $56 million at the time. The plan has never been implemented, and Hills said there's no clear path to achieve the funding.
"This study is really being done to see if there's a financially feasible alternative," he said.
Kittelson kicked off the first phase of the study with a stakeholders meeting in February that included representatives from Lake and Polk Counties, as well as Lynx, MetroPlan, the Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and several municipalities. Hills said Orange County did not participate in the first meeting.
The consultants spent the first three months of the study reviewing the existing conditions on the corridor, as well as the previous studies. This quarter the team is focused on transit and traffic forecasting, and in the summer they'll begin the mobility analysis to gain a better understand who drives on the highway and for how long.
Hills said he has access now to data that wasn't available a decade ago to learn more about driver habits. For example, the team can evaluate cell phone data to calculate if users are driving on the corridor for long distances or short trips. That kind of information would be key to understanding whether drivers would be more or less inclined to pay for a tolled express lane.
"We need to learn if we have the types of trips that would be interested and find value in paying a toll," he said.
But on a corridor like W192, which has such a huge influx of tourists, electronic tolling could be tricky. Hills pointed out that a few states use transponders that are compatible with SunPass, and most rental vehicles come equipped with transponders, as well. The Turnpike also utilizes toll-by-plate in some areas.
A second stakeholder meeting will be scheduled this quarter, likely in May.
In October, the study will enter the alternatives analysis phase, which is expected to continue well into mid-2020. Among the topics to be considered are how the mobility lanes could be separated from general traffic lanes, if at all, whether portions of the road should be elevated and whether autonomous vehicles would be permitted to use mobility lanes.
"We've been tasked to come in with no preconceived ideas and look at the data," Hills said.
The potential impact to businesses on U.S. 192 should also be considered, board member Hector Lizasuain said.
"You really need to include the Chamber of Commerce in your stakeholders' group," he said. "I remember when Osceola Parkway opened, it had a tremendous impact on businesses along W192."