By Marilyn Meyer, The Ledger
LAKELAND — Work is ahead of schedule for a spring 2019 opening of the SunTrax test facility that is under construction north of Auburndale, a Florida Turnpike Enterprise official said Tuesday.
Paul Satchfield, program management administrator, addressed the Lakeland Rotary Club at the Fellowship Hall of First United Methodist Church, and took questions from club members.
The test facility is being built next to Florida Polytechnic University with access off Auburndale’s Braddock Road, which is connected to the adjacent Polk Parkway.
SunTrax is designed to test toll technology, equipment, software, smart-phone-based payments, lane markage, signage, moveable barrier systems and more using a 2.25-mile, oval track with mile-long straightaways for five lanes of traffic.
The Florida Turnpike system has 483 miles of roads, 138 exchanges and 610 toll lanes with 2.3 million transactions a day or more than 800 million transactions a year, Satchfield said. Other contracts bring the number of transactions to 1.4 billion a year.
“With 1.4 billion transactions, it doesn’t take long for a small problem, a few pennies off, to become a large problem,” Satchfield said.
The system uses three software vendors, each of which provides quarterly updates for app users, he said.
Earlier toll-technology testing facilities allowed testing at speeds up to 35 mph, but the new SunTrax facility will be able to test fully loaded tractor-trailers at 70 mph, he said.
Under an agreement with Florida Poly, the 200-acre infield of the 400-acre facility will be set up as a testing ground for connected and autonomous vehicles, also known as driverless cars. That technology has the potential to reduce the United States’ 40,000 traffic deaths a year by 90 percent, Satchfield said.
Along with the testing facility, the Florida Department of Transportation is widening the remaining two-lane stretch of the Polk Parkway, building an electronic interchange at Braddock Road and a new southbound bridge at Dixie Highway, Satchfield said.
Among the questions from the Rotarians and their guests were:
• When will SunPass be usable in other states?
“It is currently operable in Georgia and North Carolina and should soon be operational in South Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas and Oklahoma. The goal is to have Easy Pass that you can start out in New Hampshire and travel all the way to Florida.”
• How is SunTrax funded?
“Through the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which is funded totally through tolls.”
• When will the Polk Parkway have toll plazas we don’t have to stop for?
“It’s coming. It is scheduled for 2020.”