POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- The first phase of SunTrax is expected to open in April of 2019, less than a year away. 

  • First phase of SunTrax to open in April of 2019
  • 400-acre research facility to feature 2.25 oval track 
  • Track used to test vehicles, new toll technology at high speeds

The 400-acre research facility will feature a 2.25 oval track for high-speed testing, and a 200-acre infield for testing emerging technology, including autonomous vehicles. 

SunTrax’s Program Manager, Paul Satchfield, gave an update on the project during a community forum held by the Polk Transportation Planning Organization. 

Satchfield said they've designed about 60 percent of the infield. According to Satchfield, the design calls for an urban area with shipping containers used to replicate buildings, a suburban area, and have an airport pick up/drop off area, all designed to challenge autonomous vehicles. 

“There will be a 28-acre dynamic test pad where you can actually set up any test you need to. You can stripe and cone it off and create a test environment. You can use, do what’s called vehicle in the loop testing where you actually pump a signal into the car and it will think it is somewhere else,” said Paul Satchfield.  

Satchfield projects the infield will cost more than $100 million to build, much higher than initial estimates. 

The oval track surrounding the infield will be used to test vehicles and new toll technology at highway speeds.  It’s the first phase of the project.

“In about two weeks or so we’ll begin pavement of the oval so we’ve made a lot of progress in the last year,” Satchfield said. 

“We will kick off construction about this time next year of the infield and we’re expecting to have the infield completed and open by the spring of 2021. 

Satchfield said dozens of companies have called expressing interest in utilizing the future state of the art research facility. 

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which owns SunTrax , will be seeking proposals starting next week for companies wishing to operate SunTrax and run the day to day operations.