Hello Highway, Goodbye Oaks; Trails’ Future Undecided

Toll road shrinks Hampton Reserve

An aerial view of the planned route for the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway caused some anxiety at a public meeting Tuesday night in Bartow.
It came from people who regularly use the Marshall Hampton Reserve on Lake Hancock and Panther Point Trail.
The aerial shows a highway cutting through what is now a scenic live oak hammock that lies at the beginning of a network of trails on this property.
How the access to the Hampton property would be affected remains up in the air.
Polk officials said they’d like to see the access issue dealt with in the overall project design, arguing the money is available through toll revenues.
Another issue that remains undecided and probably would be until a later phase of the project, is whether any part of the Hampton Reserve will be used as a staging area or heavy equipment or construction materials, which could also affect the site’s natural features.
Finally, county officials are looking for some mitigation of the impact of increased traffic noise that could affect visitor experience.
The good news is that nothing is going to happen anytime soon other than the completion of the current design study.
A public hearing on the project, whose estimated cost is somewhere between $120 million and $160 million, will occur in the fall. This phase of the project is scheduled to receive approval in summer 2020.
No money has been appropriated for right of way purchase or construction.
The road is intended to divert truck traffic from State Road 60 and U.S. 98 in an already congested section of Bartow. The Polk County Commission shelved plans for another road that would accomplish the same thing but along a more benign route because county officials couldn’t get state of federal money to help with the cost.
The proposed road would be a toll road connecting to another toll road, the Polk Parkway.
That bad news is that this road lies at one end of a proposed larger toll road stretching to the Naples area that could potentially affect many of the region’s natural areas.
A study commission is scheduled to be appointed by Aug. 1 to examine the feasibility of various routes proposed.
County Commissioner Rick Wilson will represent Polk County’s Transportation Planning Organization on that panel, he said Tuesday.
The study commission’s report is due Oct.1, 2020.