The Lake Underhill Bridge carries highway SR-408 tollway traffic over a small lake that is located just south of the Orlando Executive Airport on the northeast side of the city. The bridge first opened in 1973 as two parallel concrete girder bridges carrying 3 lanes of traffic on each span. Traffic on the 408 tollway increased dramatically in the 1990s, and the road was very congested following the turn of the century. The city and state wished to expand the tollway.
The SR-408 tollway was planned in several segments. The segment that includes the Lake Underhill Bridge was 1 mile in length and was budgeted for $77-million of the $500-million total for the SR-408 project. The plan was to widen the bridge from 6 lanes to 12 lanes, with 5 through lanes and one auxiliary lanes on each bridge span. Construction began in 2007, and the new traffic lanes were opened in November of 2009.
A controversy erupted when it was learned that $10-million of the $77-million budget for this project was set aside for amenities such as a pedestrian bridge, sound walls, lighting, and aesthetic elements. In particular, the two faux cable stayed towers were widely criticized as a waste of the $1.5-million price tag. Highway planners countered that this bridge would serve as a gateway for travelers entering Orlando from the east, and it was important to have a signature structure as part of the highway. Others who were in favor of the faux cable stay design thought that the 50-foot towers were far too short to be a signature design element.
In the end, the towers went up, the bridge is finished, traffic is moving again, and the city of Orlando has its eastern city gateway on the SR-408 tollway. The bridge turned out very nice, and decorative features really dress up what would otherwise be a very boring concrete girder bridge.
The photo above is looking northwest towards the south face of the Lake Underhill Bridge. The Orlando city downtown is visible in the distance beyond the west end of the structure. The east bridge tower is in the foreground. The bridge features 21 concrete girder spans, each about 82-feet long. A few spans are a bit shorter given that the two parallel bridges have slightly different overall lengths. The vantage point for this photo is a fishing pier located in Lake Underhill Park.