Transportation has been an integral part of our region’s history and has helped to make the area what it is today. This timeline of significant transportation events shows many of the ways our transportation system has been shaped. We hope you enjoy browsing through this expanded digital version of a printed timeline that appears in 20 Years of Leadership, our 2016-17 Report to the Community. If you would like to suggest a transportation event to be part of the timeline, please contact us at: PR@MetroPlanOrlando.org
On the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Walter Elias Disney was scouting potential locations for a new venture. During his flight over the rural lands of Central Florida, he watched construction on Interstate 4 progressing and saw that it would soon intersect with the Sunshine State Parkway, later called Florida’s Turnpike Mainline. McCoy Air Force Base was also nearby and accommodated commercial flights. (It later became Orlando International Airport.) Mr. Disney recognized the strong backbone of a transportation system that could easily bring scores of visitors to the area. Walt Disney World would open in 1971 and change the character of Central Florida forever.
Interstate 4 (I-4) opened in 1965. The interstate still serves as the backbone of Central Florida’s transportation system. It was originally designed to carry 70,000 vehicles per day. In the 21st century, the interstate has been changed and updated and carries more than 200,000 vehicles a day.
SR 528, originally called the Bee Line Expressway, was the first toll road built by what’s now called the Central Florida Expressway Authority. The first 24-mile segment of SR 528 opened in 1967. Today, the road extends 41 miles from I-4 in Central Florida to U.S. 1 on the east coast of Florida. Learn more about SR 528’s history on the Central Florida Expressway Authority website.
Florida state government was reorganized by a change in the Florida Constitution in 1968. This dissolved the State Road Department and created the Florida Department of Transportation in its place. Today, FDOT oversees a state road system that spans more than 122,000 miles. Learn more about FDOT here.
State Road 408, originally named the East-West Expressway, opened in 1973 and connected SR 50 (Colonial Drive) just east of what’s now Hiawassee Road to SR 50 east of Goldenrod Road. Extensions in later years have taken the road farther east and west. Learn more about SR 408’s history on the Central Florida Expressway Authority website.
The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority was created by a State of Florida Legislative Act in 1975, to administer all aviation activities of the City of Orlando. The following year, MCO (previously McCoy Air Force base) would receive international airport status and be renamed Orlando International Airport.
The Orlando Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) – MetroPlan Orlando’s forerunner – was formed more than 40 years ago to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated transportation planning program in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. The MPO was housed within – and staffed by – the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. From the beginning, the organization encouraged local governments and transportation operating agencies to work together to address transportation issues regionally.
The first segment of State Road 417 opened in 1987. The road was planned as part of what would eventually become a beltway around Central Florida. Today, SR 417 spans 55 miles and connects I-4 in Seminole County to I-4 in Osceola County, forming a half circle around eastern Central Florida. The Central Florida Expressway Authority operates the section of SR 417 within Orange County, and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise operates the sections in Seminole and Osceola counties.
Central Florida’s transit authority, now known as LYNX, originated in 1972 as the Orange-Seminole-Osceola Transportation Authority and became Tri-County Transit in 1984. In 1992, it started doing business as LYNX. As the Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the LYNX fleet now includes about 300 buses, which make some 25 million annual passenger trips.
Just a few years after changing its name to LYNX, the organization partnered with the City of Orlando in 1997 to bring LYMMO to downtown. LYMMO has since expanded to serve the downtown core, Parramore, the North Quarter, and Creative Village/UCF Downtown campus.
Rapid growth in population, visitors, and development in the 1980s and ‘90s created plenty of transportation challenges. Central Florida was maturing and needed to focus more intensely on urban transportation planning. Executive Director Harry Barley was hired in 1996 to prepare the MPO for a transition. In 1997, the Orlando Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Organization became MetroPlan Orlando and spun off from the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
The first segment of SR 429 opened in 2000. The road was to become the western side of what would eventually be a beltway around Central Florida. SR 429 connects U.S. 441 in Orange County to I-4 in Osceola County and is being extended through Seminole and Lake counties to complete the beltway. The Central Florida Expressway Authority and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise each operate sections of SR 429.
Because transportation doesn’t stop at city, county, or even MPO boundaries, MetroPlan Orlando has long workedd with surrounding metropolitan planning organizations to improve transportation for the greater Central Florida area. We formalized our partnership with surrounding MPOs in 2001, with the creation of the Central Florida MPO Alliance. The original group included MetroPlan Orlando, Volusia MPO (now River to Sea TPO), Brevard MPO (now Space Coast TPO), and Lake County (now Lake-Sumter MPO). The Polk and Ocala/Marion TPOs later joined the partnership. Today, the Central Florida MPO Alliance covers 10 counties.
Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise was created by the Florida Department of Transportation in 2002. Florida’s Turnpike is now responsible for all operations on every FDOT-owned and operated toll road and bridge. This represents about 600 miles of roadway and 80 percent of all toll facilities in Florida.
The Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act authorized the extension of SR 429 through the Wekiva River Basin. The 2004 legislation set a new standard for planning major transportation projects through environmentally-sensitive areas, preserving 3,400 acres of land for conservation, and including wildlife bridges to protect animals from crashes with vehicles. This $1.6 billion, 25-mile toll road will connect the existing SR 429 in Orange County through Lake and Seminole counties to SR 417. Construction began in 2013 and is expected to continue through 2022, as a partnership between the Central Florida Expressway Authority, Florida Department of Transportation and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.
One of the region’s most scenic trails has been steadily growing from what started as a sidewalk project near Lake Monroe in Sanford. The first mile-long segment of Sanford’s RiverWalk opened in 2004 and quickly became the focus for events and attracted thousands of runners, walkers and cyclists to the area. Subsequent extensions and improvements have made this award-winning trail a major player with connections to various roads, trails, and communities throughout the area. Learn more about the RiverWalk at the City of Sanford’s website.
Involving the community in transportation planning has long been a priority for MetroPlan Orlando. To increase our outreach, we joined the group of Central Florida public agencies that were early adopters of social media. In 2010, Facebook had 500 million active users and Twitter had 105 million users – a fraction of what they have today. MetroPlan Orlando’s social media presence has steadily grown, and we now interact with thousands of people through our social media channels.
SunRail, the region’s first commuter rail system, opened in 2014. For the thousands who ride the system Monday-Friday, SunRail offers a stress-free commuting option. The community remains interested in possible expanded service hours, but no plans are in the works for that yet. Phase two south opened in 2018, extending the system to Poinciana in Osceola County. The region obtained funding for construction of phase two north, the extension to DeLand, which is scheduled to open in 2024. A link to the Orlando International Airport, is also being studied.
In early 2015 Orlando Bike Share was launched, and Central Florida joined many regions across the country and across the globe in offering residents and tourists a system for urban bicycle rentals, using a smartphone. The city program, later known as Juice Bike Share, gave way to a series of private rental entrepreneurs who rented bikes. Both bikes and electric scooters are now available for rent in several areas across metro Orlando.
Interstate 4 has been a mainstay of Central Florida travel for more than a half century, and it continues to grow and change. As we’re starting to wrap up a massive reconstruction of the segment dubbed I-4 Ultimate – a 21-mile, $2.3 billion project from Kirkman Road to SR 434, which adds four tolled express lanes — we’re planning for what’s next.
FDOT is looking to eventually extend this design south to U.S. 27 in Polk County and north to SR 472 in Volusia. This segment is partially funded, but it still needs more than $2 billion to complete the approximately 40-mile overhaul called for in the Beyond the Ultimate I-4 project.
Central Florida’s regional trail system has grown over the past couple of decades, giving comfortable options to walkers and cyclists who enjoy active transportation. Shingle Creek Trail is an important north-south piece in the trail system. When complete, it will connect Kissimmee in Osceola County, through the City of Orlando, to the Pine Hills Trail in Orange County. This will provide access to the rest of the region’s trail network, giving users options to continue into Lake and Seminole counties.
The first Osceola County section of the Shingle Creek Trail opened in 2016 in Kissimmee, offering nature lovers scenic views of Lake Tohopekaliga and cypress swamps.
Poinciana residents celebrated the opening of the first leg of a toll road south of Kissimmee with a party in April and a 5K run on the new pavement. The second segment opened in November, completing the 7.2-mile connection from US 17/92 to Cypress Parkway. The two-lane Poinciana Parkway uses all-electronic tolling, operated by the Central Florida Expressway Authority in cooperation with the Osceola County Expressway Authority. It handles more than 6,000 vehicles a day and helps relieve congestion in this rapidly growing community.
Four Sunrail transit stops are added at the Sunrail Southern Expansion grand opening. The 17.2-mile railway added Meadow Woods, Tupperware Station, Kissimmee/Amtrack and Poinciana Station extending the existing railway from Sand Lake Road heading south into Poinciana.
Virgin Trains USA (Brightline) breaks ground for an Orlando-South rail that will connect Orlando and Miami with a high speed passenger rail, beginning in 2022. Their Orlando stop will be located at the Orlando International Airport’s Intermodal Station at the new South Terminal. This new endeavor will provide a positive economic impact in Florida creating 10,000 construction jobs, generating 2.4 billion in labor income and $653 million in federal, state and local government tax revenue. In addition to contributing to our economic development, Virgin Trains USA aims to remove 3 million cars off the road with this project.
The Orlando International Airport has come a long way since its early years as the McCoy Air Force Base, where it acquired its MCO airport code. Today, it serves more than 42 million passengers annually and is the second busiest airport in Florida. Construction on the $1.8 billion first phase of the South Terminal Complex is under way. The new terminal will include 16 airline gates, cutting-edge technology, a parking garage, and an intermodal center that will accommodate rail and ground transportation. It’s expected to be complete in 2020.
The year 2021 is just around the corner – are you ready? It’s going to be a banner year for transportation in Central Florida! Construction will wrap up on I-4 Ultimate and Wekiva Parkway, meaning smooth sailing for drivers on these major thoroughfares. In the world of transit, SunRail will be transferred from the Florida Department of Transportation to the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, meaning local governments on the commission will oversee the operations and maintenance of the system. And MetroPlan Orlando will continue anticipating the next wave of regional transportation needs.