For the past couple of years transportation planners and local economic development officials have been huddling to come up with some recommendations for dealing with the increasing congestion along the U.S. 27 corridor.
It was no surprise, then, that when a report was presented to the Polk Transportation Planning Organization today the formerly shelved eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway was back in the mix.
This proposed toll road’s route winds through northeast Polk near conservation l ands in the Marion Creek Basin and through what was once a totally rural area that is gradually seeing suburban development as Haines City and neighboring cities annex eastward.
Local economic development officials lobbied for the road years ago because it would open more land to industrial development, residential development and commercial development. Urban sprawl, in other words, which they consider a good thing.
But tying this road’s justification to traffic congestion on U.S. 27 is a bit of a stretch.
The fact is that tens of thousands of cars and trucks are clogging U.S. 27 every day is because people are commuting or traveling or hauling freight to and from destinations along this major highway or other highways such as Interstate 4 that intersect it.
Building a beltway around cities along U.S. 27 will simply add another feeder road that will ultimately simply increase the highway’s congestion.
And that’s not all.
There are proposals to extend Power Line Road east of Haines City to run from somewhere north of Davenport, maybe around the eastern end of Ernie Caldwell Boulevard , and south toward the outskirts of Lake Wales.
Meanwhile, there was another proposal to four-lane a section of Deen Still Road in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern and continue that road-widening project down Old Grade Road to I-4. Local Sierra leaders spoke against this idea at today’s meeting because it could lead eventually to more pressure to develop deeper in the GSACSC and would not divert enough traffic from U.S. 27 anyway to justify the expense and ecological damage it would cause.
Another idea would extend County Road 547 westward from Davenport into another section of the Green Swamp to connect to Polk City Road at the edge of Hilochee Wildlife Management Area.
A major gap in the presentation was the lack of any mention of using improved transit to reduce congestion, This could benefit the large number of people who work at tourist attractions and the hotels and restaurants around them and now have little choice but to drive to work. This is especially significant since Polk planners several years ago created a so-called Transit-Oriented Development District overlay that allowed much denser development in the U.S. 27 corridor and elsewhere, arguing it would create higher density that would encourage transit.
So far all it has done is to create the higher density and higher traffic congestion.
The good news, if there is any, is that none of these projects are in anyone’s transportation budget at the moment and it could be some time before there is any funding.
Watch for further discussions at future TPO meetings and public workshops as project studies emerge.
Finally, monitoring some of what is occurring is not as easy as it once was.
The TPO has decided to meet at a sports complex in Winter Haven instead of the County Commission board room in Bartow. That means the meetings are not recorded and broadcast on PGTV where the proceedings are easier to review. It also means the meetings are being held in a room with poor acoustics and an intermittently dysfunctional sound system, which means even if you take time to attend the meeting in person, it may be difficult to hear the discussions among board members.
A more transparent process might be worth considering.