Deal could kill State Road 417 widening, extra tolls

State leaders and Metro Orlando's expressway authority officials are talking about swapping or buying toll roads from each other in a deal that could kill a project that would increase tolls on State Road 417.

Triggering the conversations is the controversial plan by the Florida Department of Transportation to widen six miles of the 417 in Seminole County and charge an extra toll to use the new lanes. Seminole commissioners oppose the plan, saying it is unnecessary.

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If negotiations progress, that proposal could be killed.

Jim Boxold, who runs FDOT, told a group of Central Florida politicians and transportation leaders Wednesday that he is "relatively confident" a deal can be made.

He said he is willing to swap 18 miles of the 417 and 11 miles of S.R. 429 that the state owns for 23 miles the Central Florida Expressway Authority owns of S.R. 528, which connects Interstate 4 with Cocoa on the East Coast.

The 429 runs from I-4 near Osceola County to U.S. Highway 441 by Apopka.

Such an agreement, Boxold said, would end the proposed addition of four extra toll lanes on the 417 – two in each direction – between S.R. 434 and Aloma Avenue. The $88 million project is supposed to start next summer and could take four years to complete.

"I wouldn't want to have a [construction] contract on a road I wouldn't own," Boxold said.

Expressway authority spokeswoman Michelle Maikisch said the agency could be reluctant to part with the 528 because it is a far more financially lucrative road than the portions of the 417 and 429 the state is offering to trade.

Authority officials, she said, have indicated they may be more interested in buying the 417 and 429 from the state. No cost estimates have been made, though agency accountants are trying to come up with a value, she said.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who also serves on the expressway board, said "operationally, it makes the most sense" for one agency to control the roads rather than two.

Seminole officials, including commissioners Bob Dallari and Brenda Carey, have been highly critical of the 417 plan, especially the timing of the work because it would occur at the same time as the six-year, $2.3 billion reconstruction of I-4 through downtown Orlando now underway.

They also question whether the state is overstating the number of cars and trucks on the 417. Boxold said the 417 routinely backs up during the morning and evening rush hours near Aloma and he contends that postponing the widening will add to the congestion.

Helping to pay for the work would be an additional 25-cent charge every two miles for motorists using the so-called express lanes. The expressway authority, which operates the 417 in Orange, has no plans to widen the road or to add extra tolls.

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444.

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