OL 029: Orlando Toll Roads and How to Avoid Them
Orlando Toll Roads Surround the Orlando International Airport
We received a note on Twitter asking if we've done a show on Orlando toll roads and how to avoid them. It seemed like a great idea, so here's our show on the issue.
Orlando International Airport has two major toll roads nearby – Florida State Road 417 and Florida State Road 528 (The BeachLine).
Why Avoid the Toll Roads?
There are two basic reasons to avoid the toll roads.
- To avoid paying the tolls
- Eliminate the hassle of stopping to pay tolls
You can exit the airport only from the North or the South, and it's possible to head out without hitting any toll roads at all. We discussed how to plot your course using Google Maps to avoid toll roads.
I tried creating some routes to different areas, such as from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World or from the airport to Loughman, FL.
To be honest, Google Maps showed the toll-free routes as less distance and faster than the toll roads. It seems like a no-brainer, right?
Why I Recommend Using the Toll Roads
Given a choice between taking the city routes vs. the toll roads, I'll always go for the toll roads. Even if it's longer, more expensive, and takes more time.
Because Orlando toll roads are far less stressful than the alternatives. You don't have to deal with stop lights, navigating different streets, crazed local drivers who are familiar with the roads and can't stand the fact that you're going too slow.Orlando toll roads are far less stressful than the alternatives.Click To Tweet
Most rental cars will allow you to use the toll roads with a license plate option, but that service comes with fees from the rental agency. If the fee is over $10, I'd suggest getting a transponder from ePass or SunPass. You don't have to stop for tolls and you get charged a lower rate when you use a transponder.
I put links to the two major toll agencies below – ePass and SunPass.
Navigating unfamiliar roads, even with a GPS, can still be stressful. There's a road in Tampa that my GPS doesn't really seem to understand. It routes me a mile away between an office building and hotel I use. They're right across the street from each other.
The toll roads are simple to navigate, have less traffic and no delays. You can avoid the toll roads if you want, but I'd encourage you to use them.
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Show notes are available at: orlandolocal.com/29
Welcome to the Orlando Local Show, episode number twenty-nine.
Hey, thank you very much for joining us on the Orlando Local Show. My name is William Beem and it’s just going to be you and me today. Lee is off taking care of some other things.
Our show today is going to be on how to avoid Orlando toll roads, but also there are some reasons why you may not want to. And this question kind of came to us over Twitter from someone named Jason Rob Gallant. I hope I pronounced your last name correctly.
Jason asks: “Have you ever done a show on dealing with or avoiding tolls for travelers? We are arriving at MCO, renting a car. We’ll be staying at Loughman” (It’s down in the Poinciana area.
It’s actually kind of a popular place for people who are going to visit Walt Disney World and it’s kind of like in the Champions Gate area, Poinciana and Winter Haven area. So it’s a bit south of going to Walt Disney World and if you plan on going to Legoland it’s probably a good jumping off point for that.
Like I said, it’s a popular area, especially if you want to rent a villa or something like that rather than stay in a hotel. The question kind of is how do I get there without paying tolls?
We’ll get to that a little bit later on, but let’s go over the topic itself.
Orlando has a number of toll roads and usually if you go to an airport in most major cities they kind of surround the place with toll roads. There is a way to get in and out of the Orlando Airport (the code for that is MCO, if you’re not familiar already) and you can just kind of look and see that you can really only get out to the North or to the South. If you want to travel without going toll roads, it’s possible. You’ll be driving some back roads. You’re going to be making a lot of turns and of course you’re going to ahve to deal with traffic and stop lights.
It’s not the way that I would really recommend to anybody because yes, you are avoiding the tolls, but you’re dealing with a lot more stress because the people who are driving on those roads in town know – or hopefully – they know where they’re going and some of them can be a bit more aggressive; sometimes it’s not so bad. It depends upon the time of day and where you’re at.
But it’s not an area I would recommend. Despite the fact that traveling on local roads rather than the toll roads is probably going to be fewer miles and can possibly even be faster if you know where you’re going.
Let me just ask the question. Why do you want to avoid local toll highways? There are really two reasons.
One is you don’t want to pay the money for the tolls. That’s pretty obvious. The other one is you don’t want to stop at every little toll plaza that comes along because that kind of adds up to your time driving. So the toll roads are going to go out a little bit more, you’re going to be driving more miles and then if you have to stop at every toll plaza and fish out quarters, which you may not have or you’ve got to deal with change, it just gets to be a pain in the neck. I understand that.
There are a couple of highways around here that you’re probably going to be predominantly dealing with if you’re looking at the visitor areas and toll roads.
The two coming out of the airport are going to be 528, which is also known as the Beachline and that will head over to the East, it will head over to the Cocoa area and to the West it will kind of take you into the International Drive area.
The other one is Florida State Road 417. It’s kind of a beltway highway. It goes from down at the Disney area, just below Walt Disney World area and you will get on 417 there past Celebration and go out and around to the East and then back up to the North to Sanford.
If you want to avoid driving I-4 through the major dense area, which trust me, I do – I would rather go 417 even though it’s longer and it costs me money – it is a much less stressful way than driving either on I-4 through Downtown Orlando, Altamonte Springs and other places to get up North, or going South the other way. It’s also less stressful than taking the back roads because the back roads, especially at high volume times like rush hour in the morning, rush hour in the evening or lunchtime, the roads around here are just getting clogged. The reason for taking 417 or taking 528 really is to thin out the herd so that you can drive to your destination without having a whole lot of traffic.
Even 417 in some areas is getting kind of crowded in the morning. I know if you’re coming down from Sanford, going across Lake Jessup just before you get to the University Road exit for traffic going to UCF (University of Central Florida) or also going down to major work areas like Lockheed Martin, there’s a lot of traffic that kind of clumps up in that area. Then you get past it and start driving fine again. It happens in both directions at the rush hour time.
The other major roads that you might come up with are 429 – that is the other part of the beltway and unlike 417 going around the East, 429 is going off up to the West, but it’s not yet connecting back to I-4 and I’m not sure if it’s going to. That would kind of connect to the Mount Dora area. So if you’ve got a reason to drive up in that area, 429 is a good toll road to take, but it doesn’t come back to connect with I-4 if you’re heading from Disney area on towards I-4 direction.
Now, as far as the toll systems, there are several in Florida, but there are two predominant ones in the Orlando area. One is SunPass and the other is the Central Florida Expressway Authority, also known as ePass. And you’ll see signs for both of these along the highways I’m talking about: 528 and 417 toll roads.
The good news is each one of them recognizes the other so you don’t have to worry about do I have to buy a SunPass for this and an ePass for that? The answer is no you don’t. Really if you’ve got a SunPass or ePass you can drive on either of these roads and you go through all the tolls. In fact on 417 you will find some areas where SunPass is the major provider for tolls and ePass is the major provider in other areas. If you are going to like the center of a city, East or West Expressway is Florida State Road 408. That is pretty much an ePass system.
While 417 is pretty much a SunPass system with some sections for ePasses. It kind of gets confusing but the truth is you don’t have to pay that much attention to it.
OK so I mentioned the fact that you may not want to avoid the tolls and there are a couple of reasons for that. One, if you have a rental car you can still use the toll system without having to stop and give change at each plaza and that’s because a lot of rental car companies will provide you with a license plate tracking system so you can just drive straight on through without having to stop and take a pass.
There is a bit of a down side to it. Depending on your rental car company they are going to charge you for it and what they charge may or may not be worth your while.
What you can do instead is you can order a transponder from either SunPass or ePass and I’ll put links to these on the show notes and for about ten bucks you get a transponder and then you can drive straight through. But you get another advantage. The tolls are cheaper. You get discounts for using the transponder system versus going through either the license plate collection system or going through and paying the tolls.
So in my case I really prefer the toll roads, even though they are longer; even though there is an additional charge. Because it is much less stressful and it is much less hassle than driving on back roads going through stop lights, making a bunch of turns and planning your route that way.
Now how are you going to map your route? There are a couple of things you can do. If you’ve got a vehicle that has a GPS system in it you can program that and it will guide you to your destination. I’ve done this in a few strange cities and at times … most of the time it works great. At times when it frustrates you is when you have a quick turn this way, a quick turn that way and you’ve got to go through something that you’re just not expecting to come up so soon. You may over shoot a turn and then have to come back around and go back in. It’s happened to me specifically in Boston because there are so many places in Boston where the roads just seem to be like cow paths and they were built on the cow paths!
But in Orlando it’s not quite that bad; every once in a while you’ll have a quick left and then a quick right or something that may mess you up.
I know leaving the airport going out on the road and then trying to onto McCoy Road there are a couple of spots there where it just seems if you don’t know the area and if you’re not paying attention to it you may end up having to circle around and go back.
And that, along with the traffic lights, is one of the reasons why I really don’t like taking the back roads and it’s not something that I would recommend. I would really recommend using the toll road system and even I-4 South of the Downtown Orlando area. I think it’s going to be much better than trying to take some of the back roads to get to your destination.
Now if you don’t have a mapping system in your car what I’m going to recommend is that you go to Google Maps. This is actually pretty simple to do. You’re going to search for the airport code, MCO. After you get the results from typing in MCO on the left side you’re going to see a blue bar, on the upper left side that says Orlando International Airport and to the right side of that little box it says directions.
Go ahead and click on Directions. You need to say instead of putting Orlando International Airport in the bottom section you kind of want to hit the arrows pointing up and down to the right hand side of that and just make sure that Orlando International Airport is at the top. In other words that’s the part where you’re going to be departing from.
And then put in the address or location of where you’re going to.
So if you know the street address, that’s fine. If you just know I’m going to Walt Disney World, then you just type in Walt Disney World. It will start giving you some directions and in the upper left hand corner there’s a blue box up there. You’re going to see something that says Options.
So go ahead and click on Options. And then beneath that there’s going to be a darker blue bar that says Route Options. So click on that and then you’ll see to the left side places that you want to avoid. In other words, exclude these things from your trip.
It will allow you to exclude highways, it will allow you to exclude tolls and exclude tolls and allow you to exclude ferries. And other than Walt Disney World we really don’t have ferries in the Central Florida area. So I wouldn’t worry about that one.
But let’s say you just click tolls and you exclude that from your route, then you’re going to get a map that’s going to give you step by step directions and it’s going to give you some options. You can see you can drag a little line from one road to another to try and get to the destination that you provided.
So MCO is where you’re going to depart and then your final destination, whether that’s going to be in the Poinciana or Champion State area, if it’s going to be Walt Disney World, if it’s going to be Universal Studios or International Drive. Wherever you’re going it’s going to give you two or three routes to get there and it’s going to show you how much time it estimates if you were driving right now – how much time it would take you to get there. I think that is a better option because it also allows you to click another little button and you can see each road and each turn, step by step. So you can see where you’re going to be going at a detailed level.
The nice part about that is you’ll see that some of them will say that it’s faster to go on the back roads or it’s fewer miles to go on the back roads. If that’s what you prefer, go ahead and do it. But keep in mind when I say back roads, I’m not necessarily meaning that you’re driving on some two lane road out in the country. You’re still going to be driving through basically major suburbia. You’re going to have 7-Eleven stores all over the place, you’re going to have all sorts of fast food and other things that you would find in suburban environments in any other city in the country. And you’re going to find plenty of stop lights. They are going to be anything from single two lane roads to four lanes across and larger in some cases.
It’s not my preference. I’ve had to do this on a few times – I’ve had to do it a lot of times living here – and sometimes I just kind of want to get there. That’s what I like about the toll roads and even highways like I-4. You don’t have stop signs, you don’t have to worry about people saying “Oh there’s the turn!” and then driving across three lanes to the left. It’s a much less stressful way to get there unless you’re going to Downtown Orlando.
I would advise you to avoid I-4 through Downtown Orlando at any time of day or night if you can. It is under construction right now, the lanes are in places difficult to understand what’s going where because they are shifting as they go through the construction and this is going to be happening for the next four, five or six years as they go through the I-4 development project.
I’ll put a link to that on the show notes as well, too. You can get there straight through I-4. I was just driving there twice last week. I had to go to Downtown Orlando and from where I live, I-4 was the way to go. And I’m comfortable with I-4 even with some of the changes that happen, but if it’s your first experience with it between the bumps, the construction, the lanes shifting back and forth and all the aggressive drivers, it’s not something that I would really recommend for anybody who is not familiar with the area.
Jason, I hope that kind of answers your question. You can avoid the toll roads coming out of the airport. If you use the toll roads, whether you are going to have a transponder or use the license plate, I would check with your rental car company and ask what fees they charge based upon using their system. If it’s over $10 you might just want to go ahead and order a transponder either from SunPass or ePass. Put that in your car. You can take it with you and when you come back to Orlando you can use it again and you don’t have to buy it another time and you can recharge it on the web page and the links will be in the show notes.
I hope this was helpful. If you’ve got any questions or if you want to know something more about dealing with traffic in Orlando, I’ve been through most of it so I can tell you what I like and what I don’t like. But as I say, my preference is I’ll use the toll roads because they are far less stressful than going any other routes in the area.
Thank you so much for listening to the Orlando Local Show, episode twenty-nine. Of course show notes are going to be available at orlandolocal.com/29 and you get a free transcript of the show there. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at orlandolocal.com/29
I’ll have the links to SunPass, to ePass, to the I-4 Ultimate Transformation Project and maybe a couple of others I might put out there to show you major toll roads in the area.
Thank you very much. We’ll see you again next week.