By Lloyd Dunkelberger / The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — State officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking Monday at a transportation facility in Polk County that could make Florida a leader in developing technologies related to tolling and automated driving.
The 400-acre SunTrax facility, which is being developed by the Florida Turnpike Enterprise in conjunction with Florida Polytechnic University, will include a 2.25-mile oval track that will allow for high-speed, multi-lane testing of new toll technologies, including smart-phone based payments.
The track, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, is one part of the overall facility. The 200-acre infield, where construction is set to begin next fall, will be developed as a testing ground for connected and autonomous vehicles, featuring environments that can simulate driving conditions in urban, rural and suburban communities.
Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, executive director of the Florida Turnpike, said the facility is intended to be a “high-tech hub” for research and development of cutting-edge transportation technologies.
“SunTrax enhances Florida’s place at the forefront of new transportation and tolling technologies, while providing Florida Poly a unique opportunity for its students to participate in the testing and development of transportation technologies and innovations,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said in a statement.
Randy Avent, president of Florida Polytechnic, said the joint facility “will increase opportunities for faculty research and partnerships with industry.
“As a university founded in the practice of applied research, we look forward to these increased opportunities that SunTrax will bring to our faculty, students and the state of Florida as a whole,” Avent said.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Polk County resident who is running for governor, also attended the ceremony.
“Innovation in transportation is essential to Florida and SunTrax is at the forefront,” Putnam tweeted.
When completed, SunTrax will be the only dedicated high-speed tolling and automated-vehicle testing facility in the southeastern United States, according to state officials.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti said one of the goals for the facility is to attract related technology companies to the region.
“Hundreds of acres are available immediately adjacent to the facility for the future development that will support the growth of this emerging industry,” she said.
SunTrax is part of the Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partnership. Central Florida in January was designated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as one of 10 regions in the country for automated-vehicle testing.
Other members of the Central Florida partnership include the city of Orlando, the University of Central Florida, the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering, NASA, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Turnpike.