Fifty years ago the Florida Department of Transportation announced it was considering extending what was then State Road 54 across the Green Swamp to connect to the Gulf Coast via the highway’s western section.
It was the second proposal after an earlier idea was sidetracked because it would affect what was then a Southwest Florida Water Management District reservoir planned at the time as part of something called the Four Rivers Basin Project intended to prevent future flooding in the Tampa area. Flooding that occurred following Hurricane Donna in 1960 led to Swiftmud’s formation as a flood-control agency.
Demonstrating that old public works projects never die, they just hibernate, a proposal for the realignment of Deen Still Road, which now runs through the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern from U.S. 27 north of I-4 to Rock Ridge Road off U.S. 98 north of Lakeland, is among the unfunded Polk transportation “needs” list. It was among the projects included in a recently unveiled proposal to push for a sales tax referendum to pay for this and many other road construction projects.
Jay Jarvis, Polk’s director of roads and drainage, said the project would involve removing some curves in the road that pose a hazard for truck traffic, which has increased since Polk officials decided to pave the road several years ago.
The idea of paving a road through the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern has long troubled environmentalists because the improvement could lead to more pressure for development. For now that is impossible because the critical area designation limits development in the main areas of the Green Swamp.
The Green Swamp contains the headwaters of the Hillsborough, Ocklawaha, Peace and Withlacoochee rivers and the high point of the Floridan Aquifer, the main source of central Florida’s drinking water. It is also a major hub for a series of statewide wildlife corridors.
However, in addition to simply straightening some curves in the road (and probably raising sections that are now temporarily flooded during the rainy season) the proposed project would involve adding a new road section that would cut through Swiftmud’s 11,052-acre Hampton Tract and a section of 5,067-acre Colt Creek State Park and emerge somewhere near the intersection of U.S. 98 and State Road 471.
Jarvis said the road project faces some environmental permitting obstacles and the mitigation required to deal with the new highway’s environmental impact could advance some projects sought by land managers on the two properties.
There is no funding for the project, but if it obtains funding, the project is worth watching.