Orlando’s ultimate rides (and they’re not in the theme parks!)

By : Kirk Hartlage
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Welcome to the debut of a brand-new column that we anticipate running annually for at least the next six years! It’s the launch of important information you’ll need to know about driving around Orlando during Gay Days Weekend while navigating Central Florida’s I-4 Ultimate Project: perhaps the most heart-pounding and adrenaline-pumping ride in town!

For the unfamiliar, I-4 Ultimate is a 21-mile reconstruction and widening of Central Florida’s main transportation artery which will add four new express lanes – complete with tolls – in the center of the highway. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) project covers the area of I-4 from west of Kirkman Road to east of SR 434. Of the 142 bridges along the corridor, 13 will be widened, 74 will be replaced, 53 will be new and 4 will be temporary. In addition, 15 major interchanges will undergo complete reconstruction.

The new express lanes will feature dynamic pricing based on congestion. Tolls are higher during rush hour when demand is greater and lower during non-peak times when demand is less; and sorry, no heavy trucks allowed. The general use lanes will continue to be free, as they are today.

Included in the project’s budget is the addition of signature design elements, including green spaces, lighting accents, water fountains, art sculptures, and dynamic illuminated pylons. It’s not just the physical roadway improvements; thanks to all the aesthetic and cosmetic changes, I-4 is getting a true makeover.

The project’s Southern end is at Kirkman Road, meaning you’ll only have to deal with Attractions Area construction near Universal Studios, and not near SeaWorld or Walt Disney World… for now. That’s right, get ready for the sequel!Studies are about to be completed for “I-4: Beyond The Ultimate” (that’s FDOT’s description, not ours), which will continue the improvements of I-4 from Kirkman Road to U.S. 27 in Polk County, extending another 21 miles.

By the time it’s all done there won’t be a single bit of asphalt in the corridor that isn’t overturned and replaced by the project’s completion, expected in early 2016.

I-4 Ultimate Public Information Officer Dave Parksencourages drivers to sign up for personalized alerts containing advanced warnings about planned lane closures and detours at I4Ultimate.com. Parks said he doesn’t anticipate much major road work that could disrupt Gay Days Weekend travelers this year.

“However, next June…” Parks said.

Nonetheless, here’s what you’ll need to know for Gay Days Weekend 2015, from the official I-4 Ultimate Construction Update Alerts:

* The ramp from I-4 eastbound to Princeton Street will be closed each night from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. between June 1 and June 4, for widening.

Say what you will about new roller coasters and high-tech movie-based attractions: the biggest longest newestride in town is SunRail, Central Florida’s passenger rail service!

SunRail covers 32 miles from the City of Debary in Volusia County to Sand Lake Road in Orange County, just east of the Attractions Area. Launched with commuters in mind, trains currently operate Monday through Friday only.

The train is economical; a round-trip ticket from the Sand Lake Road Station to the Church Street Station in Downtown Orlando, and back, runs just $3.75 for adults.

Expansion plans will take the train further South, reaching Poinciana in Osceola County, and extend North to DeLand in Volusia. This second phase for SunRail will nearly double the track’s current length, while adding five stations to the 12 already in operation.

For further information on schedules and fares, visit SunRail.com.

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