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SunTrax progresses toward finish line

Veronica Brezina

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The oval testing track at SunTrax. Image: Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.

The state-of-the-art test track where autonomous vehicles can be tested, under numerous scenarios, from stopping for pedestrians to navigating through storms is well underway. 

SunTrax, being developed by Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise under the Florida Department of Transportation, is situated on 475 acres in Lakeland near the Florida Polytechnic University. 

The multi-lane track will make SunTrax the only high-speed autonomous vehicle (AV) testing facility in the southeastern United States and the only high-speed track in the world to offer tolling simulation, handling speeds of up to 70 miles per hour. In the infield, there will be multiple simulated transportation environments.

The construction for the entire facility kicked off in 2017 and initially had a summer 2022 opening date. 

However, the entire SunTrax center is not fully operational yet and – it’s now on track to be completed in early 2023.  

The construction of the facility was broken into two phases. The Phase 1 construction started in 2017 and entailed building the 2.25-mile oval test track, which has been operational since June 2019.

“We have conducted important transportation technology testing over the last several years, including toll technology testing, safety testing and other automated and connected vehicle application testing,” a SunTrax spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

Phase 2 of the project was for the construction of the 200-acre infield. Construction started in January 2020. The build-out of the infield features various testing environments, including a geometry track, a loop track, a reconfigurable simulated urban environment, a pick-up/drop-off area, a harshness testing area, a technology pad and wet test tracks.

The technology is made to replicate different weather scenarios, as well to test how a self-driving vehicle could successfully navigate the situations. 

Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise also constructed the main entry campus, featuring a 20,000-square-foot arrival and conference center as well as offices, classrooms and indoor and outdoor event spaces. The complex also features a 27,000-square-foot maintenance building, 56,000-square-foot workshop buildings and a 75-foot-tall observation tower to view the vehicles as they navigate the different testing environments.

The construction cost for the project is $141.2 million.

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