Florida Building Huge Autonomous Vehicle Testing Center

The automotive industry is the third largest research and development (R&D) spender in the country and much of that R&D is focused on connected and autonomous vehicles. Willing to take a gamble on the future impact of autonomous technology, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, FDOT, Central Florida Automated Vehicle Partners and Florida Polytechnic University have embarked on a partnership to establish a unique autonomous vehicle testing center known as SunTrax.


Tasked with a mission to accelerate the future of transportation, SunTrax is envisioned to become a continuously evolving, nationally recognized center for the development of innovative transportation technology solutions.

Under construction since June 2017, the state-of-the-art facility will be dedicated to the research, development and testing of emerging transportation technologies in safe and controlled environments.


The 475-acre autonomous vehicle testing site, halfway between Tampa and Orlando, includes a 2.25-mile oval track for high-speed testing and a 200-acre infield resembling a city for the testing of difference scenarios for automonomous vehicles within an urban environment.

Students at nearby Florida Polytechnic University, the state university system’s only university entirely dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), will participate in the research, development and testing of autonomous technologies at SunTrax.

(Autonomous Rail Transit (ART))

Recently annexed by Auburndale, a city with roughly 14,000 residents, the $42 million project is also anticipated to stimulate significant economic development in the Polk Commerce Centre Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).

The 2,500-acre CRA is home to 1.32 million square feet of distribution space operated by Saddle Creek Logistics Services and Medline Industries, Inc. Its 2,500-acres of former citrus groves straddle the Polk Parkway just east of the state’s newest university, Florida Polytechnic.

According to Paul Satchfield, Program Management Administrator for SunTrax, economic development will come in the form of businesses involved in vehicle testings generating the need for nearby office space, hotels and gas stations.

To facilitate the development of SunTrax, associated transportation infrastructure investments include the widening of the Polk Parkway and the construction of a to new electronic Parkway interchange at Braddock Road.

SunTrax is expected to be completed by Spring 2019.


1. Main Access & Building Facilities

• Primary entry point to the site with connectivity to all the different test zones • Building facilities (administration, multi-bay garage, observation tower, and warehouse/lab/workshop spaces) • Central business district environment with large reconfigurable intersection/roundabout 2 High Speed Oval

2. High Speed Oval

• 25-mile oval with a 70 mph design speed • 1-mile independently operable 5-lane straightaways • 4 free-flow toll gantries and office/warehouse building facilities (outside the track, not shown) for toll equipment and software testing

3. Dynamic Test Pad

• 28-acre paved open space • Capability to replicate nearly any real-world geometric configuration in a controlled testing environment • Accommodates virtual and augmented reality platforms to simulate countless additional scenarios (buildings, pedestrians, traffic, etc.)

4. Pick-Up / Drop-off / Multi-Modal

• Replicates various multi-modal passenger transfers, such as airports, hotels, and transit centers • Adjustable lane striping, signing, and curb-side pick-up and drop-off scenarios

5. Urban

• Simulates a variety of urban intersection configurations and complex lighting, signing, and signalization conditions • Highly reconfigurable facades simulating city-like buildings as well as prop features such as trees, poles, simulated pedestrians, etc. • Facilitates “urban canyon” signal loss and simulated rainfall testing

6. Complex Suburban

• Simulates large multi-lane arterials in suburban transitional environments • Complex configuration of multiple streets converging in a large, skewed intersection • Adjacent frontage roads adding more conflict points

7. Roadway Geometry Track

• Undulating topography built into the manufactured hill-scape • Strategically located to screen the entry facilities from the active test areas • Made up of complex horizontal and vertical curves and also includes irregular grade changes

8. Environmental Test Chamber

• Enclosed structure for testing in precisely controlled and repeatable smoke, fog, and dust conditions

9. Loop Track

• Straightaway track with a loop at either end allows continuous higher speed testing • Provides a turnaround loop to feed vehicles back into the main spine road and urban grid to the west

10. Ring Track

• Two-lane ring track with a 55 mph design speed • Outer lane abutting the oval provides direct connectivity to the outer track • Overpass over the main spine road allows continuous operations at higher speeds

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com