Major Central Florida Construction Projects Continue Despite COVID-19 Concerns

A view of Interstate 4 construction, looking south toward the skyline of downtown Orlando as seen from the Maitland Blvd. overpass, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel

Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline) has decided to move forward with three mega-construction jobs worth many billions of dollars despite the coronavirus outbreak stalling Central Florida’s economy and employment. There will be a pause only for safety briefings on how to avoid catching COVID-19.

Work continues on the Virgin Trains extension from South Florida to Orlando International Airport. The expansion at the airport also includes a new terminal, a remake of Interstate 4.

Together, those projects are expected to total more than $8 billion. The projects all have financial backing and are projected to reach a peak workforce of nearly 4,000. The construction is expected to continue into 2022.

Virgin Trains USA recently announced construction on Phase 2, service from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport, has begun. (Photo: ERIC HASERT/TCPALM)

The $4.1 billion project crew is preparing the Florida East Coast Railway corridor for a second set of tracks. On the Treasure and Space coasts, crews are clearing shrubs and removing trees for the privately-owned rights-of-way. Construction activity is expected to increase this summer when some railroad crossings may be closed for days or weeks at a time. 

Virgin Trains USA is hoping for a late 2021 completion date and start-up for its servicing between Orlando and Miami.

Looking to continue moving on its construction timeline, Virgin Trains said it is able to do most of its work while maintaining social distancing guidelines of 6 feet between people.  Virgin Trains USA is also encouraging its workers to practice safety procedures to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. Employees are spending more time washing their hands, disinfecting equipment thoroughly and using telephones to hold verbal meetings and conferences.

The Florida Department of Transportation is monitoring the construction projects closely and said in a statement that the agency is “working with industry partners and making sure all precautions are taken on worksites to minimize the spread of the virus.” The Virgin Trains expansion was reorganized into smaller groups to maintain 6 feet of separation among workers, said spokeswoman Katie Mitzner. 

Virgin Trains began construction last year on tracks that will extend passenger service currently between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport. The workforce of about 700 is expected to peak at nearly 1,000 builders. The privately financed project, which includes an enormous maintenance building at the airport, is to cost $2.5 billion.

The $2.3 billion I-4 Ultimate project is an extensive overhaul spanning 21 miles of Interstate 4 from south Orange County through Orlando to Seminole County. The construction’s machinery can be seen from the airport’s existing terminal. The new terminal a mile to the south is an enormous complex bristling with construction cranes.

Pilings and foundation work is nearing completion. The steel frames and walls are taking shape.

Delays for the project have been due to structural steel from Canadian mills held up by the closed border with the U.S.

Virgin Trains made the difficult decision to run its last train on Wednesday, March 25, after the company decided to suspend passenger travel on its higher-speed passenger rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. The South Florida community has been hit especially hard during the pandemic and has since led to some communities passing restrictive shelter-in-place orders.