Shortly into his tenure as state transportation chief in 2011, Prasad pushed his district leaders to raise their game. "I wanted my leadership team to focus on game-changer projects—those projects that have been talked about for years and years," he recalls. If they could turn some of those transportation dreams into reality, Prasad told leaders, "That's the legacy we all want to leave behind."

The 25-mile-long Wekiva tollway project is a notable example. With "lots of starts and stops" in its history, Prasad says, the project lacked a financing plan and faced opposition from environmental groups wary of its potential impact on wildlife and water resources in the Wekiva River basin.

Also, regarding the questions that so long surrounded the project's viability, the secretary admits that for a long time there was only "a lot of wishful thinking but no definite answers."

"We took that as a good challenge to get things to happen," says Noranne Downs, secretary for FDOT's District Five. The agency and its consultant partners focused on addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, from funding partners to the environmentalists who had long opposed the project.

"Anybody who had a say and a concern was at the table," Downs says. The end result: Environmental groups, including Audubon of Florida, banded together as project advocates, lauding FDOT's "unprecedented efforts to protect the environmental resources of the Wekiva basin ecosystem."

With that long-awaited breakthrough, construction of the project's first phase began in 2013. The $1.7-billion Wekiva Parkway project stands atop ENR Southeast's annual Top Starts ranking, which is included in this issue.

Managed Mission

Moving forward, Prasad and FDOT are racing to achieve another possible milestone: creating the nation's first managed-lanes network. Within 10 years, the agency expects to complete construction of a South Florida managed-lanes system that would include interstates 95 (60 miles), 595 and 75 (17 miles) as well as state highways 826 and 836.

When complete, this system would provide South Florida motorists with the option of using managed lanes almost exclusively for their interstate highway travels in the region.

FDOT has been moving forward on this concept for several years and has achieved significant levels of acceptance from motorists so far.