How design is driving Americas largest infrastructure project
Florida’s I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project aims to create a commuting experience that will delight residents and tourists alike.
Alvaro Alonso is the design-build manager of the I-4 Ultimate Improvement Project, a massive $2.3 billion venture to redesign and reconstruct Florida’s Interstate 4 (I-4). It is the largest infrastructure project underway in the United States and has involved 600 engineers from all over the world.
When Alvaro was studying civil engineering at the University of Florida some 30 years ago, little did he know that he would someday go on to direct one of the largest construction projects his state has ever seen. “I am always excited to come to work,” Alonso said. “The magnitude of this project can baffle the mind. It is the largest infrastructure project underway in the United States and has involved 600 engineers from all over the world. I am often challenged but always go home satisfied every single day.”
Alonso is the key interface among the project’s several stakeholders – the designers, operations team and a consortium of companies that comprise SGL Constructors (SGL) — a joint venture consisting of Skanska, Granite and Lane — leading the design, engineering and construction of the improved I-4. This P3 project includes constructing 21 miles of roadway through Central Florida, adding two dynamic tolled Express Lanes in each direction, and reconstructing 140 bridges, 15 interchanges and nine toll gantries in the process.
Voice of the motorist
Before any shovel could pierce the ground, though, the project began with a vision. Commuter experience has been at the centre of that vision for its designers and engineers. That means the new I-4 will see increased traffic flow and improved safety, as well as a host of attractive and mixed-used features that will contribute to a more pleasant overall environment when using the highway system. This experience is especially important considering I-4 spans the state of Florida, cutting through Orlando, one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations.
“When the new I-4 is complete, it will be a driving experience like no other in the state of Florida, I can tell you that,” Alonso said. “Because of its great design-engineering, we will be able to move people and goods a lot faster through the region with a better aesthetic experience, creating value for the driver. The economy is going to be positively impacted in ways we don’t even know of yet.”
These aesthetic features include landscaping, such as water fountains, medallion seals on signs and structures that represent cities along the route, and LED lighting under bridges and overpasses that will change colours to celebrate events and holidays. Mixed-use spaces under sections of the highway, for example, will also be home to shopping centres, sports venues and more.
Award winning and sustainable
Environmental concerns were an important consideration for the project — so much so that it won a prestigious Envision Platinum Certification from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), marking the first time that the award has been bestowed to a roadway project in the state of Florida. The project’s environmental considerations include relocating protected wildlife; the planting of non-invasive vegetation; the recycling of 99% of the concrete and steel removed from roads and bridges; the integration of rail and pedestrian crossings, including overpasses and bike trails; and the use of efficient machinery.
“We are very proud of the Envision Platinum award because it’s a recognition of our sustainability efforts that will impact the entire state,” Alonso explained. “All of the challenges we’ve come up against are magnified because of how big the project is — one decision can have much larger implications than one would consider on a smaller project.”
Three decades ago, when Alonso was studying his craft in a university classroom, he could not have guessed just how impactful his decisions would eventually become — and how much the state of Florida would truly benefit from them.