Polk Commissioners Back Galvano Toll Road Plan

The Polk County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to support a proposal by Senate President Bill Galvano to extend toll roads into rural areas of Florida

Galvano has proposed working to find funding to extend existing toll roads into rural areas and to build new roads, claiming it will aid economic development in rural areas of the state, an area he claims has been neglected by such projects.

These road projects have generated criticism in the past from rural residents because they would bring urban noise and traffic to relatively peaceful sections of the state. Most of the push for the new roads is coming from business interests hoping to profit from the projects or their spinoff effects.

Polk’s main interest involves getting funds to advance the Central Polk Parkway.

The first phase, which would connect the CSX freight terminal in Winter Haven to the Polk Parkway, is being designed. A second phase, which would run through rural areas of northeast Polk near extensive conservation areas, is on hold because an analysis showed it was not financially feasible. The second phase has drawn criticism from rural residents and is mainly being championed by business interests in the Winter Haven-Haines City area, who view as an economic development project.

In the letter signed by Commission Chairman George Lindsey, local officials repeat the often-used claim that the need for hurricane evacuation routes justifies the project, adding completion of the Polk toll road could provide an important link for a larger toll route that would run southwest toward the Gulf Coast through rural and conservation lands.

Meanwhile, when commissioners meet in their annual retreat later this week is scheduled to include a presentation on the claimed need for other road projects to relieve traffic congestion, primarily in northeast Polk County. That congestion is partly the result of the approval of thousands of new homes in an area with little infrastructure to handle it and little planning to deal with it before the new growth was approved.

The congestion-related projects commissioners will hear about will be competing with these toll roads for limited transportation dollars.

Meanwhile, road impact fees are less than they should be. If new development generates the need for these road projects, that’s where the money should come from, but probably will not.