Improving Interstate 4

The I-4 Ultimate project reconstructs Florida’s iconic highway from the ground up. 

By Brian Alvarado

Photos by FDOT

Originally constructed in the late 1950s, Interstate 4 (I-4) has been a staple for locals and visitors traveling across Florida. The highway spans 132 miles, and is maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). As normal wear and tear has occurred over the years, FDOT decided it was time for a massive overhaul and improvement of this key highway. Thus, the I-4 Ultimate project was born.

The I-4 Ultimate is the first complete reconstruction of the I-4 from the ground up. The makeover impacts 21 miles of interstate, rebuilding 15 major interchanges and over 150 bridges. Additionally, the project adds capacity with four general use lanes in each direction, along with two dynamically toll-managed lanes in each direction to provide motorists with options to avoid congestion. Previously, there had been various improvement projects over the years, however, nothing as extensive as this.

I-4 Ultimate is the single largest infrastructure project in FDOT’s history.

“The I-4 Ultimate project is the single largest infrastructure project in the department’s history and is critical to the growth of one of Florida’s most crucial transportation corridors,” said FDOT District Five Director of Transportation Operations John Tyler.

The project team consisted of FDOT, RS&H, HNTB, Global-5, Volkert, DBi Services, SGL Constructors, HDR, Jacobs and TCD. I-4 Ultimate is being built as a P3 (Public-Private-Partnership). The FDOT signed a 40-year concession agreement with I-4 Mobility Partners to design, finance, build, operate and maintain the highway. Design and construction accounted for 6.5 years, with 33.5 years of operations and maintenance to follow.

I-4 Ultimate is being built as a P3 (Public-Private-Partnership).

One major achievement of the project, according to Tyler, is the reconstruction of the 21-mile corridor as the construction team is utilizing temporary traffic control phasing to maintain the same number of travel lanes that existed preconstruction. This requires the team to fully utilize the available project right of way within an already very constrained area and still be able to build out the wider footprint with the addition of the managed lanes. The traffic phasing was made more challenging, as the majority of the construction had to be performed on top of the existing footprint of I-4, with minimizing the impact to the traveling public. While the project is still under construction, another one of the most significant achievements was the opening of the new I-4/SR 408 interchange to traffic. 

“This new interchange delivers direct connect flyover bridges, providing for the first time dedicated directional movements within the busiest system to system interchanges in the region,” Tyler said.

A major challenge the development team encountered was logistics due to very tight and heavily congested urban areas in which the project corridor serves.

“The project requires almost 1,300,000 linear feet of piling,” Tyler said. “If the contractor elected to utilize concrete piling, the size of cranes and the logistics to deliver the concrete piling would be exceptionally challenging.”

The project adds capacity with four general use lanes in each direction, along with two dynamically toll-managed lanes in each direction to provide motorists with options to avoid congestion.

To address this challenge, the contractor approached the design to primarily use steel piling, which ultimately would require more individual piles to be driven, but would also support the practical use of shorter, lighter piles, making the related supply logistics less challenging. The contractor also chose to utilize crawler mounted pile driving rigs, with hydraulic hammers. 

“These rigs were more compact than the traditional swinging lead pile driving rigs common to the area, fitting into the smaller work zones associated with the traffic phasing required for the corridor,” Tyler said.

Another challenge was to keep traffic moving during construction. Tyler said that the team has been able to keep the same number of lanes available during construction as there was pre-construction.

“This was no easy undertaking as the job calls for a complete reconstruction of the roadway,” Tyler said. “It has taken strategic planning and keeping in constant communication with local partners and the public.”

Communicating information about this project has been vital to its success, says Tyler. Nearly 60% of the 140,000 to 200,000 vehicles traveling the corridor are daily commuters, while the rest of the traffic is made up of commercial and visitor traffic. 

“Letting drivers know that Orlando remained open for business and that you can still get where you need to go was part of the messaging that began well before the first shovel turned dirt,” Tyler said. 

On the sustainability side, the I-4 Ultimate was the first highway project to receive the Envision Platinum award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, recognizing concern for threatened wildlife, control of stormwater runoff, use of locally appropriate plants, creating public spaces that bring people together and integrating alternative forms of transportation such as walking and bike trails. Additionally, approximately 99% of all concrete and steel removed from the existing interstate was recycled and re-implemented.

The I-4 Ultimate project is the single largest infrastructure project in the department’s history and is critical to the growth of one of Florida’s most crucial transportation corridors.” -John Tyler, FDOT

Earlier this and year under the direction of Governor Ron DeSantis, the FDOT and the I-4 Ultimate team were able to expedite significant portions of the I-4 Ultimate project in Orlando, including opening all new ramps at the I-4/State Road (S.R.) 408 interchange — the centerpiece of the project. 

In May 2020, the project achieved a major accomplishment by opening five flyover ramps at the interchange, improving access and safety at the crossing of two major Central Florida arteries. 

“Each direction to and from each highway now has a dedicated ramp, eliminating merging points and weaving,” Tyler said.

This portion of the project was completed three months ahead of schedule. The final and tallest flyover ramp at the interchange (more than 120 feet above the ground) opened to traffic in July 2020.

The community reaction to this portion of the project has been largely positive, according to Tyler, as travel times have stayed consistent with pre-construction conditions throughout development. In order to keep track of the timeline to plan their commutes accordingly, motorists are able to view construction and lane closure schedules on FDOT’s website. 

“Employing innovative outreach techniques coupled with strong stakeholder partnerships, the project has been well understood by the public.”

As this portion of the project completes, the community can expect the full completion of the project by the end of 2021.

“You’re really getting the full mobility of the I-4 Ultimate corridor now that we’ve anticipated this whole time to give people better travel times, better connectivity and better mobility,” said FDOT Public Information Officer Jessica Ottaviano in an article from WESH 2.

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Brian Alvarado is the editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. He can be reached at brian@builder.media.

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