Orlando Sentinel: Soto Hosts Chairman DeFazio in Central Florida to Discuss I-4
The overwhelmed stretch of Interstate 4 through the Orlando region is “a poster child for what’s wrong” with the nation’s highways, the chair of the U.S. House transportation committee told Central Florida officials at a meeting Monday.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, is crafting a giant infrastructure bill that local authorities hope will provide substantial funding for revamping 20 miles of I-4 east of Orlando and 20 miles west of the city through the theme-park area. That work is being done in phases and there is no overall completion deadline.
That project, I-4 Beyond the Ultimate, is in addition to the $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate overhaul of the congested interstate along 21 miles from north of State Road 434 in Seminole County, through Orlando and to west of Florida’s Turnpike in Orange County.
DeFazio’s “Moving Forward” bill would provide a five-year, $760 billion investment in highways, public transportation, airports, ports and harbors, water utilities and broadband.
“You have opportunities here that other parts of the country don’t have,” DeFazio said, speaking to local business and political leaders at a meeting called by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee. DeFazio cited the significant, existing right-of-way along I-4 available for expansion, which other urban areas don’t have or can’t get.
“You’ve got enough right-of-way to run the [Virgin Trains] high-speed rail down to Tampa,” said DeFazio, who previously described that prospect as “very exciting and exactly what we want to encourage with federal funds.”
The Florida Department of Transportation district secretary for the Orlando region, Jared Perdue, told DeFazio that the Beyond the Ultimate project is a $3 billion-plus investment on I-4.
“The population growth down here is through the roof,” Perdue said.
Several other local officials chimed in, describing the Central Florida region as being strangled by the traffic of new residents and a torrent of visitors, with peak commute times topping 1½ hours each way in and out of Orlando.
“It’s affecting every Central Floridian and the quality of life here,” Soto said.
The I-4 Beyond the Ultimate project is anticipated to bring relief for commuters living in Polk County and for heavy congestion that occurs near Walt Disney World exits.
Greg Moore, a Disney transportation principal, said the I-4 Beyond the Ultimate project is “shovel ready” and “if funding can be identified, this one is ready to go.”
The busiest section of I-4, which spans from Daytona Beach to Tampa, is just north of the Disney property from State Road 535 to the Beachline Expressway, carrying as many as 250,000 vehicles daily, Moore said.
A portion of that traffic load includes many of the 80,000 workers at Disney, Moore said.
Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey said rapid growth in southwest Orange County has overwhelmed roads and other infrastructure.
“We need those funds here tomorrow,” VanderLey told DeFazio during a meeting attended briefly also by U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat and chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
DeFazio urged those at the meeting to take their messages to Washington, D.C.
“All transportation issues should be bipartisan,” he said.