This artist's rendering of a streetscape along South Street near McJordan Avenue is an example of the aesthetic improvements that will be made along the widened SR 408 in Orlando. Additional lanes will be built along the existing median of the roadway. Source: PBS&J

Exploding growth and increased tourism have taken their toll on State Road 408 (SR 408), the 16-mile limited-access toll road that allows travelers to bypass downtown surface streets in Orlando, Fla. The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority needed to add lanes to SR 408 to increase capacity to meet this demand.

Portions of the roadway will be expanded to five lanes each direction, and in a number of areas, a landscaped center median will be added. Where space constraints eliminate the landscaped area, a single concrete barrier will be constructed.

In addition to the widening, the on-and off-ramps will be braided to provide a safer commute between Crystal Lake Drive and Conway Road. The bridges will eliminate a weave pattern, meaning entering drivers no longer will have to merge with exiting drivers.

The existing barrier mainline toll plazas are being replaced, using express lanes with electronic toll collection technology that allows drivers with E-PASS transponders to pay their tolls without slowing or stopping. Cash customers will need to exit the mainline to pay at new barrier lanes. These are relatively standard solutions to alleviate urban traffic congestion. What is unique, however, is the setting—or “context”—in which these improvements will be made. Mindful of Orlando's status as a world-class travel destination, the Expressway Authority has opted for a plan incorporating context-sensitive design principles that highlights the best aesthetic features of the community while making special efforts to keep residents and property owners informed of each stage of the project's development. The first section of the project started in October 2003, and all construction will be done in 2009.

“We could have approached the project strictly as an opportunity to add capacity,” said Mike Snyder, P.E., the Expressway Authority's executive director. “But we had a second chance to make a really positive impact on the community.”

SR 408 cuts through residential areas as an elevated roadway in parts of downtown Orlando. To remedy noise problems, particularly in areas where homes are as close as 100 feet from the road, 8-foot high sound walls will be added at the shoulders. The top of the sound walls for the elevated roadway will be higher than 20 feet from residential streets, so the walls will be stepped or tiered to soften the views from homes.

The addition of towers and tubes to existing concrete girder bridges will create a faux cable-stay bridge to serve as the city's eastern gateway.

“We took what could have been strictly a functional feature and made it more artistic,” said Joe Berenis, P.E., the Expressway Authority's deputy executive director. “Consequently, it's more memorable for travelers and it has created a unique statement for the existing neighborhood.”

The bridge will span Lake Underhill, one of Orlando's most popular lakes. A new pedestrian bridge will provide a 10-foot wide concourse for joggers and walkers that frequent the nearby park.

In designing the facades, the Expressway Authority conducted an extensive study of the styles of nearby homes, stores, and other buildings before settling on a final plan. “A lot of the influence came from the architecture already present in the downtown area,” said Berenis. “Many of Orlando's historic homes have porches with batten columns, columns that were angled at the top, Craftsman bungalow-style, so we incorporated that into our design.”

Because SR 408 is a toll road, no tax dollars are being used to fund the $640 million project. The Expressway Authority has gone to great lengths to keep residents and property owners informed from the start of the design and throughout construction as the project proceeds.

The Expressway Authority contracted with a private firm to provide a one-stop source of public information around the clock during construction. “It's amazing the results we are getting,” said Ben Dreiling, P.E., director of construction for the Expressway Authority. “We have no unresolved issues or complaints.”

Jackson is associate vice president and program manager for PBS&J in the Transportation Services' Central/North Florida Division.