Natural vegetation cuts costs on expressway
The Orlando, Fla., Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) has met the expanding transportation needs and supported a growing economy for metropolitan Orlando since 1963. Of the 78 miles of toll expressway constructed and administered by OOCEA, 22 miles comprise the East-West Expressway, 22 are part of the Beeline Expressway, and 34 are part of the Greene Way, a segment named for the late James Greene, an economic development pioneer in Central Florida.
After the first segment of the Greene Way opened in June 1993, OOCEA took steps to develop the surrounding landscape. Because much of it had been cleared for the expressway, the first goal was to plant low-maintenance vegetation compatible with the surrounding areas.
“Essentially, the board felt very strongly that the Greene Way was the backbone of Central Florida’s transportation system,” says Joseph Berenis, deputy executive director and director of engineering and planning for OOCEA. “The landscaping would help form a vital first impression for visitors, and — because riders would be charged a toll for the privilege of driving the Greene Way — we felt they deserved the best possible ride.”
HOH Associates, in Orlando, Fla., landscape architects and planners, helped OOCEA establish objectives and goals for the project. An initial site inventory was conducted, and each segment of the work was divided into three levels. Level one was basic grass and minimum vegetation. Level two added plant material, and level three featured a well-landscaped system. Each element — buffers, toll plazas, interchanges, straight sections and over-passes — was categorized by level. Greater importance was assigned to the elements that required a decrease in vehicular speed, such as toll plazas and interchanges.
The landscape development and improvement for the Greene Way has been incorporated into a 10-year plan. Currently two years into the plan, three landscape projects have been completed, including the 244-acre Greene Way/Beeline Interchange, for which OOCEA obtained a $150,000 Florida Department of Transportation Highway Beautification Grant.
The landscape design for the interchange focused on sensitive environmental issues. More than 90 percent of the plant materials selected were native or naturalized to the area, resulting in lower water and maintenance requirements.
Trees placed along the perimeter of the project provide effective visual/noise/wind buffers for future adjacent development.
Native plant materials required less maintenance and no supplemental irrigation, and “no mow” zones allow natural succession of native materials. The maintenance schedule approximates costs for five-year post plantings, and a one-year contract with a landscape contractor is underway.