FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

(The Center Square) – The Florida Department of Transportation is directing $2.1 billion in already allocated funds into accelerating 10 road projects, with at least one in each of the state’s eight transportation districts getting a short-term boost in money and manpower.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida DOT Secretary Kevin Thibault outlined in detail the projects the state will accelerate over the coming weeks with traffic in many areas down by two-thirds of normal volume.

In his April 1 safer-at-home order, DeSantis commissioned the DOT to identify projects that could be spurred along faster while roads are temporarily less traveled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The bottom line is we should take advantage of this pause,” DeSantis said Saturday. “People aren’t able to go to work, kids aren’t going to school, so there’s a lot of negatives involved. But the fact that we don’t have as many people on the roads, let’s take advantage of that.”

Among the projects the DOT will expedite is the $2.3 billion expansion and refurbishment of a 21-mile span of Interstate 4 across Orange and Seminole counties in the Orlando area.

The project is designed to unclog bottlenecks at I-4 intersections with state routes 434 and 408.

The stretch is normally traveled by up to 120,000 vehicles a day but has seen volume decline to under 40,000 a day, DOT said.

The acceleration could trim up to two months off the I-4 project’s completion, which already was more than 250 days behind schedule. Thibault has penciled in a July 4 completion date.

Closing lanes and less-traveled roads will allow contractors to increase daytime construction and shift traffic away from spans where construction is being sped up.

“They save time by getting this done and moving the traffic around,” Thibault said, noting such project components as laying road and bridge beams, which can take up to nine days working around normal traffic, now could be done in about two days.

“Importantly,” DeSantis said, “none of these changes will increase the cost to the Florida taxpayer” because the money is being diverted from other projects and will be replenished later by scheduled phased funding earmarked for the projects tabbed for acceleration.

Among the projects identified by DOT is four named almost immediately after DeSantis issued the acceleration request and five added to ensure every road districts from the Panhandle to the Keys receives at least one.

The other nine projects identified on DOT’s list:

• The $864 million Howard Frankland Bridge that links Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in the Tampa Bay area will be accelerated by nearly four weeks;

• Widening Southern Boulevard (State Route 80) in western Palm Beach County will be accelerated by nearly three months;

• Phase one of the construction on the U.S. 1 Cow Key Bridge in Monroe County on Key West will be accelerated by one week;

• Widening the 23rd Street Flyover project at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 23rd Street in northeast Florida’s Bay County will be accelerated by one week;

• The $802 million I-395/State Route 836/I-95 reconstruction project design in Miami-Dade County will be accelerated by four weeks;

• Sand Lake Road (State Route 482) expansion near International Drive and Universal Boulevard in Orlando will be accelerated by four to six weeks;

• I-75 paving at the State Route 70 interchange in Manatee County will be accelerated by two weeks;

• Paving, widening and signal upgrades along State Route 951 in southern Collier County will be accelerated by four weeks;

• The “Diverging Diamond Interchange” on State Route 200 (A1A) at I-95 in Nassau County will be accelerated by two months.