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Projects in Florida and Georgia Win Regional America’s Transportation Awards

by: Jessica Hoover
Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
I-4 Ultimate
I-4 Ultimate
I-4 Ultimate
I-4 Ultimate
SunTrax Transportation Testing Center
SunTrax Transportation Testing Center
SunTrax Transportation Testing Center
SunTrax Transportation Testing Center
Four state department of transportation (DOT) projects in Florida and Georgia won regional awards in the 2023 America’s Transportation Awards competition, created by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The competition recognizes DOTs for making a difference in their community, with each project falling into one of three categories: Quality of Life/Community Development, Operations Excellence, and Best Use of Technology & Innovation.

“These trailblazing projects from the southern region of the United States play a vital role in bolstering safety, advancing mobility, responding during natural disasters, and creating more multi-modal options for all communities,” said Jim Tymon, Executive Director of AASHTO. “Now in its 16th year, the America’s Transportation Awards commemorate the best of our industry and highlight the critical work that our state DOTs accomplish from coast to coast.”

Nineteen projects in the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO) region were nominated by DOTs for this year’s competition. The following four projects in the Dixie Contractor area were winners of regional America’s Transportation Awards.

Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access (Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium Category)
In September 2022, Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida and wreaked havoc on the Sanibel Causeway, which connects Sanibel and Captiva Islands to the mainland. The hurricane damaged the mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls and concrete sheet pile seawalls along the bridge approaches, along with causing breaches in the earthen causeway and roadways.

The causeway was severed in five different places, cutting off all vehicle access to the islands and leaving the local community stranded. Residents and business owners were unable to cross the three-mile-long bridge, and first responders could only access the islands by helicopter, making the delivery of essential supplies and services a challenging task.

In response to this crisis, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) initiated a $64 million emergency restoration project to repair Sanibel Causeway in just 15 days. FDOT designed temporary repairs that could be constructed quickly and safely, with crews working around the clock to restore drivable access for the over 6,000 residents of Sanibel Island.

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“I am grateful for our dedicated team members who quite literally built a road in the Gulf in 15 days,” said FDOT Secretary Jared W. Perdue, P.E. “A project like this, under normal circumstances, could take months. However, FDOT, along with our law enforcement partners at the Florida Highway Patrol, Lee County, and Florida Department of Emergency Management made use of strategic and innovative techniques to rebuild the causeways quickly. Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership, and thanks to the hard work of hundreds of FDOT employees and contractors, we were able to relink Sanibel Island to the mainland.”

Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project (Quality of Life/Community Development, Small Category)
Originally constructed in 1931, Augusta's 5th Street Bridge has undergone a $9 million transformation courtesy of the Georgia Department of Transportation. The aging bridge was closed for several years before being reimagined as a pedestrian crossing, enriching the city's multi-modal transportation network and providing a new pathway for pedestrians.

The revamped 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge now features numerous shaded benches for pedestrians to rest, water fountains for people and pets, and ample lighting for safety and aesthetic enhancement. The bridge is now listed as an Augusta tourist attraction and is slated to host various community arts events and festivals throughout the year.

I-4 Ultimate (Operations Excellence, Large Category)
FDOT’s $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate project ushers in a new era of improved accessibility and efficiency for the Orlando metropolitan area. Originally constructed in the 1960s, Interstate 4 (I-4) was struggling to accommodate the growing population of the Orlando region, which has grown to over 2.5 million residents today. The explosion of tourism, fueled by the opening of major attractions along the I-4 corridor, added to the highway's challenges. Recognizing the need for an upgrade to meet current and future demands, FDOT embarked on the I-4 Ultimate project.

This massive undertaking encompassed the reconstruction and widening of 21 miles of I-4, stretching from west of Kirkman Road in Orange County to east of State Road 434 in Seminole County. One of the largest innovations of the project was the introduction of the I-4 Express, which consists of two tolled managed lanes in each direction that enhance travel time reliability and alleviate congestion for commuters.

In addition to the highway improvements, the I-4 Ultimate project saw the reconstruction of 15 major interchanges and the reconstruction, construction, or widening of 140 bridges. To promote alternative forms of transportation, the project included the installation of a pedestrian bridge and tunnel.

Environmental consciousness was also a priority during the project's execution. FDOT implemented various measures to minimize environmental impacts, such as relocating protected wildlife, employing efficient machinery, controlling stormwater runoff, planting noninvasive vegetation, and recycling 99% of the concrete and steel removed from roads and bridges.

SunTrax Transportation Testing Center (Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Medium Category)
To enhance safety and shape the future of transportation, FDOT invested $150.6 million in the SunTrax Transportation Testing Center, a 475-acre facility designed to expedite the development and testing of emerging transportation technologies. SunTrax is the country’s first facility specifically designed for connected autonomous vehicle and standard automotive testing in a single site and is one of the few highway-speed tracks in the world to offer tolling simulation — handling speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

“SunTrax solidifies Florida as a leader in the development of transportation technology and is quickly evolving into a nationally and internationally recognized center for advanced mobility solutions,” Perdue said. “This facility is a visionary step that will keep Florida at the forefront of emerging technology, safety, and innovation.”

SunTrax features a 2.25-mile oval track, along with a 200-acre complex that includes specialized testing environments like geometry and loop tracks, a reconfigurable urban environment, suburban area, and technology pad. The facility's main entry campus contains a 20,000-square-foot arrival and conference center, which houses offices, classrooms, and indoor and outdoor event spaces. The complex also features a 27,000-square-foot maintenance building, a 56,000-square-foot workshop building, and a 75-foot-tall observation tower that offers panoramic views of the surrounding test environments.

Next Phase of the Competition
The three highest-scoring projects from each regional America’s Transportation Awards competition (a total of 12 projects) will continue on to compete for two national awards, the Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. In November, AASHTO will reveal the winners at its annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Top 12 projects in alphabetical order by state are:

  • Florida Department of Transportation’s Hurricane Ian Sanibel Island Emergency Access
  • Georgia Department of Transportation’s Historic 5th Street Pedestrian Bridge Rehabilitation Project
  • Illinois Department of Transportation’s Jane Byrne Interchange
  • Iowa Department of Transportation’s Adult Changing Facilities in Iowa Rest Areas
  • Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Mayfield Tornado Response
  • Maine Department of Transportation’s The Veranda Plan
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Flood Warning System
  • Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Emergency Fern Hollow Bridge Replacement Project
  • South Dakota Department of Transportation’s U.S. Highway 83 Corridor Improvements and Reconstruction
  • Texas Department of Transportation’s Mobility35 Initiative to Address Homelessness Program
  • Utah Department of Transportation’s Teamed-Up for Transit: UDOT and UTA Partner to Improve Mobility for Local Community
  • Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Lamoille Valley Rail Trail
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