This is the year that transportation in Metro Orlando fundamentally changes.
By May, the region is supposed to get its first commuter train, the $1.2 billion SunRail system that will link DeBary in Volusia County with downtown Orlando and Sand Lake Road in south Orange County.
Later this year, or possibly early 2015, a massive $2 billion overhaul of Interstate 4 through downtown Orlando is set to start. It will add four toll lanes down the middle of the region's most heavily traveled highway, with the likely construction-caused delays expected to send frustrated motorists scurrying to SunRail.
Both developments are unprecedented in the region, though tolls long have played a role because motorists have to pay to ride Florida's Turnpike and the 109-mile road network operated by the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority.
What's different this time is placing tolls lanes on a so-called free road such as I-4. That's never been done before in Central Florida and, in fact, was prohibited by federal law for years. The prohibition was dropped in 2012, allowing the state Department of Transportation to move ahead with a pay-to-drive plan.
State officials are counting on a private company – four are in the running – to cover nearly half the cost of the project, with tolls being used to repay the investment over 30 or more years. The state is willing to put up close to $1 billion as its contribution.
The winning I-4 outfit should be picked by the state in June, with construction possible by the end of the year. Work could be complete in 2020.
By that time, SunRail should have been rolling up and down the tracks for six years and had its initial 31-mile route extended to 61 miles, going as far south as Poinciana in Osceola County and to DeLand in Volusia to the north.
Central Florida long has sought some sort of fixed-rail mass transit, going as far back as the 1980s and earlier. But several efforts fell short until 2009, when the state Legislature approved the FDOT plan for SunRail after two previous failed attempts.
Critics say SunRail will be a boondoggle because residents will not give up the freedom provided by their automobiles. What if a SunRail passenger needs to go home for an emergency and the train is not available, opponents ask? Or how do riders get from the train station to their final destination?
They predict ridership will be limited and SunRail will be a costly failure.
But government officials throughout the region are creating different programs to assist potentially stranded train riders, from cars that rent by the hour to bike rentals to improved bus service.
Just the excitement over having a first-ever train will provide riders, predicted Gary Huttmann, assistant director of MetroPlan Orlando, which sets transportation policy in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.
The unpredictability of I-4 traffic – will it be snarled by a wreck or construction work? – also will aid SunRail, he said.
"People are looking for consistency," said Huttmann, who commutes daily on I-4 from Volusia County to downtown Orlando.
At first, SunRail will operate on a limited schedule, running on the half hour during the morning and evening weekday rush hours, then every two hours in the afternoon and night. There will be no weekend service or direct rail link to Orlando International Airport.
SunRail officials hope to expand hours and, eventually, to the airport, if the passenger count grows.
But if ridership is sparse, expansion will be a difficult sell to the public, especially if SunRail's multimillion-dollar operating deficit grows over time.
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Bright spots: Metro Orlando motorists who regularly use Interstate 4 to get to and from work soon will have a choice about their daily commute. Instead of relying solely on their car, they can leave it in the parking lot and ride a train.
Storm clouds: Lots of questions accompany SunRail and the Interstate 4 overhaul. Will anybody really ride SunRail? Will construction be so bad on Interstate 4 that people will do anything, including riding a train, to avoid it? Will people be willing to pay tolls to avoid congestion, once construction is complete?
Trends to watch: Tolls appear to be the future for roads in Florida. With the prime source of road construction funds, the gas tax, dwindling because of smaller cars and decreased travel, state officials are turning to tolls to pay for new roads.