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New Central Florida Highway Will Charge EVs as They Drive

State Road 516 will be equipped to recharge batteries of electric cars and trucks as they drive along the toll expressway. Although it will be less than five miles long, the road will cost nearly $550 million.

Daily commuting ranks among life’s tediums but one day Central Florida drivers will get a charge out of motoring on a new highway in south Lake and west Orange counties.

Based on technology used in armrests at Orlando’s airport that power phones wirelessly and stoves that heat skillets without burners, the coming State Road 516 will be equipped to replenish batteries of electric cars and trucks as they zip along the toll expressway.

An initiative of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, S.R. 516 aims to bring the future of driving to the present.

“This is the first brand new highway having the system from the beginning,” said Sergio Perez of Enrx, a company in Norway specializing in wireless energy and hired by the expressway authority. “It is a world premiere.

Other wireless, in-road charging projects are underway in Detroit, Indiana, California, Europe, Israel and elsewhere in the world but those are retrofitting existing roadways.

In all, S.R. 516 has been deemed a signature example of how to build roads that are easier on the environment and drivers.

It also will feature solar panels able to make the nearly 1 megawatt of electricity needed to operate the road.

The road will have an underpass 260 feet long, 18 feet wide and 8 feet high for wildlife migrating to and from the huge Green Swamp. There will be an adjoining recreational trail.

Landscaping will prioritize native plants favoring Florida climate, including fire bush, coontie and saw palmetto, and ground covers not needing much mowing.

With an east-west alignment, the highway will link the exploding suburbia along the north-south U.S. Highway 27 in Lake County with a section of Orlando’s expressway beltway, the north-south State Road 429 in Orange County.

S.R. 516 will be less than 5 miles long, or a fraction of the expressway authority’s 125 miles of highway. But the future has to start somewhere and the road’s environmentally considerate capabilities will be operational and not merely experimental.

The road will cost nearly $550 million, with nearly $14 million of that for the electric vehicle charging project. Early estimates show daily traffic counts of as many as 21,000 vehicles during the first year, climbing to as many 25,000 in year five. Construction will run from early April through late 2027.

“The 516 has been talked about and been planned for a number of years to relieve that east-west traffic in our region,” said Sean Parks, a Lake County commissioner and member of the expressway authority.

“It’s also been a part of our economic plan in south Lake County to put a jobs center on the map,” Parks continued. “Obviously, we have a lot of housing. This provides an opportunity for us to get us better connected to the region.”

While S.R. 516 had percolated for years in the authority’s project list, the decision to showcase it for sustainability was made more recently.

In 2018, Parks and former authority head Laura Kelley visited “The Ray,” an 18-mile piece of Interstate 85 south of Atlanta devoted to testing environmental and technology ideas.

Later, Parks, Kelley and staff attended a conference at Purdue University, where they met representatives of ASPIRE Engineering Research Center at Utah State University.

ASPIRE is sponsored by the National Science Foundation to advance electrified roadways. The authority and ASPIRE are now collaborating over S.R. 516.

“This is the first public freeway, multilane deployment that will happen in the U.S., which is a big, big deal,” said Michael Masquelier, ASPIRE’S chief commercial officer.

The 516 project will be the first installation of wireless charging in concrete lanes and it will have variable power for small cars and the biggest trucks alike, he said.

“Ultimately, it’s all about usage and usage is what’s going to drive adoption,” Masquelier said. “To do that you have to span the full vehicle spectrum.”

In-road charging involves embedded coils of wire in pavement that emit electromagnetic energy – a term for a wide spectrum that includes radio waves, light and x-rays – to just above the road’s surface.

Vehicles must have receiver plates attached to their underbodies to tap into the electromagnetic field and transfer its energy as electricity to a vehicle battery.

Perez of Enrx said the system at S.R. 516 will be the most powerful in the world.

Drivers of electric cars understand that charging systems vary widely.

Basic household charging can funnel electricity into a car battery with a strength of less than 20 kilowatts.

Last summer, Orlando Utilities Commission opened a public, fast-charger hub on Robinson Street. It has six “charging dispensers” rated for 240 kilowatts and 15 rated for 120 kilowatts.

The S.R. 516 system, taking up a footprint of about three-quarters of a mile, will provide charging at strengths up to 200 kilowatts.

Perez said 200 kilowatts will be for heavy trucks. Cars will be fed less, perhaps 50 kilowatts.

As a vehicle passes over in-road charging, it will receive enough electricity for the drive along the system – which, to illustrate the point, could be 1 mile – and store enough electricity to drive another 2 miles.

Government agencies, vehicle manufacturers and road builders will have to get on the same page, which is what the Central Florida Expressway Authority hopes to achieve.

“Innovation is in our core,” said the authority’s chief of engineering, Glenn Pressimone. “We were not into solutions that are looking for problems, so to speak. We are open to innovation and to pilot projects.”

The authority’s leading example is its E-PASS transponders for paying tolls. That program rolled out in 1994, or five years before the state transportation department followed with SunPass transponders.

The E-PASS reference is apt. That program has built a mature customer interface for signing up drivers that – in the future – could be used for on-the-go charging.

Pressimone said the challenge for his agency goes beyond mastering technology. “We have to get it into a low-bid environment,” he said of how road agencies award jobs.

“Part of what this pilot is, is to establish the standard of what goes into the road and the standard of what is built into cars,” Pressimone said. “This could definitely be a reality for us.”

©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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