The idea that building a new road will relieve congestion on an existing road has been examined often and found lacking.
That fact has not deterred Polk County transportation planners from continuing to defend the idea that the construction of the eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway is just what drivers on U.S. 27 need.
There is no question that the section of U.S. 27 in Polk County—particularly the section in northeast Polk north of Haines City—is congested at many times of day and will become even more congested in the future.
This result also was no surprise to everyone except some Polk County planners.
When the area in the northern U.S. 27 corridor began to explode 25 years ago, a senior Polk planner told me it caught him and his staff by surprise.
That surprised me, because these were the same people who fought (along with the local development community and the County Commission) against state growth-management planners (when there was such a thing) for years to gain development entitlements along the highway after freezes in the late 1980s wiped out citrus production north of Interstate 4 and left many landowners with no alternative but to sell to developers.
What else did they expect to happen?
There were plans to build alternative roads along the corridor to relieve local traffic, but the funding for much of that evaporated when the development bubble blew up in 2008 and the tax base plummeted.
Meanwhile, those development entitlements and the ever-liberalized county land-use policies created a sea of new subdivisions and commercial strip developments and the inevitable demand for traffic lights, which added to the congestion.
The push to build a new toll road that will wind through the suburbs of Lake Wales, Haines City and surrounding communities assumes that U.S. 27 drivers will somehow agree to pay for the privilege to detour miles out of their way to get back to U.S. 27 near I-4 only to return to even worse gridlock similar to what daily commuters face on I-4 where two other toll roads and Walt Disney World’s exits converge.
That idea also ignores the fact that the new road and inevitable demand for interchanges to serve development interests will create additional development magnets to what is already happening on the outskirts of these communities.
It is hard not to assume that whoever moves into the subdivisions along the new toll road will use it. The combination of local and detoured traffic will simply move the congestion to two roads instead of one.
Meanwhile, planners appear to have scrapped plans to widen U.S. 17-92 between Haines City and the Osceola County line, arguing it will not help the U.S. 27 congestion problem, even though it might help local traffic flow.
However, the section of U.S. 17-92 in Osceola County is being widened, which will create a bottleneck for motorists headed to Polk County and additional congestion.
Finally, the idea that people should be able to drive around in one of the fastest-growing counties in one of the most populous states in the nation and not experience traffic backups on major highways is simply delusional.
It’s too bad the powers that be plan to spend north of $1 billion to confirm that delusion.