ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A big change is coming to Interstate 4 this weekend with the new I-4 Express lanes, and the Florida Department of Transportation is warning drivers they could take some getting used to.
About two hours ahead of their scheduled unveiling, the new toll lanes officially opened Saturday morning shortly before 8 a.m.
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News 6 spoke to Jessica Ottaviano, the FDOT public information director, ahead of the new toll lanes opening. Here are five things she said drivers should know.
I-4 Express is free, for now
“We are going to be opening it free for drivers for the first five days,” Ottaviano said. “So drivers can experience this without worrying about making mistakes and having to pay for that and just learning this new choice that’s available to them.”
FDOT said after the first five days of free tolls, they will then offer an introductory rate of $0.50 per section. If you want to travel the full 21-mile stretch from Kirkman Road to State Road 434, it will cost you up to $3.50.
Ottaviano said eventually they will transition to variable tolling which means the prices will change depending on traffic.
“If more people are using them, we’re going to raise the price to give that still reliable trip,” she said.
Ottaviano said FDOT plans to collect data to help them determine the variable toll costs.
“We’re having this introductory period so that we have some time to gather the data because it’s based on real-time traffic, that means we need real traffic in there,” she said.
Who can use the express lanes?
Only two-axel vehicles are allowed to use I-4 Express.
“We are allowing transit buses and school buses, things like that, if they’re preregistered to use that,” Ottaviano said.
Ottaviano said the biggest tip for drivers is to make sure they have a toll transponder.
“There’s not a toll-by-plate option or a cash option, so you’ll need a transponder. Can be SunPass, EPass, or any of the other transponders that are acceptable in Florida,” she said.
If you don’t have a transponder, Ottaviano said drivers could be subject to a $25 fee and the cost of the toll.
“If you find yourself on these express lanes and you don’t have a transponder, do not panic, don’t stop. Please proceed safely forward to the next exit and then you’ll be able to work that out through the turnpike customer service line,” she said.
The following payment transponders will be accepted:
- Peach Pass
- NC Quick Pass
First responders are ready
Ottaviano said first responders have been training for the opening of the express lanes, including holding mock scenarios along the corridor.
She said drivers must follow the posted speed limit and troopers will be out on the lanes monitoring drivers.
“Everyone is going to be impacted this weekend. There’s going to be extra congestion in the area, so it’s very important in that everyone be patient, mind the speed limit, drive safely and avoid distractions,” Ottaviano said.
Plan your trip before hitting the road
There will be a learning curve with I-4 Express.
“These are not the same entry and exit points that you’re used to from the regular I-4. There’s certain exit points throughout the corridor so it’s important for people to check out I4Express.com to learn those in advance so they have some idea of where they’re going in advance,” Ottaviano said.
Drivers can plan out their trip ahead of time by using the map feature on I4Express.com. This interactive trip planner will tell drivers where to enter and exit I-4 Express to get to their destinations.
Expect congestion when the toll lanes open
Ottaviano said FDOT is intentionally opening the express lanes over the weekend because traffic is usually lighter. She said the weekend will give drivers the opportunity to check out the lanes before their Monday commute.
“On Monday, we expect an even busier day of traffic. It may be the first time some people have gone out there, so it’s really important for people to be patient, drive safe, and be alert while you’re driving the area,” she said.
Ottaviano said traffic backups will be the biggest the challenge when I-4 Express opens. She said to expect congestion until traffic normalizes.
“A lot of people want to use these and that’s why we have offered this for free so people can get a feel for it. It’s a new option that a lot of people may not have experienced before,” she said. “Drive safely, factor in a few extra minutes in your route because it may take some extra time to get through here. But once traffic normalizes, we’re really excited to have a new travel option in this area that can give people more predictable travel.”