If you thought the worst toll road damage in Polk would involve work planned in a couple of years on a toll road that would slice off a piece of Marshall Hampton Reserve’s oak-shaded trails, think again.
That project called the western leg of the Central Polk Parkway will connect the area around the Winter Haven industrial park and freight rail terminal with the Polk Parkway.
The impact on the Marshall Hampton Reserve also involves the relocation of the parking area and trailheads and some alteration of some of the lands east of Lake Hancock purchased by the Southwest Florida Water Management District as part of the Lake Hancock reservoir project that are now owned by the Florida Department of Transportation. Swiftmud also owns the Marshall Hampton Reserve, but Polk County manages it.
This western leg was one of two toll road projects shelved by state transportation officials in 2015 after they concluded there wasn’t enough projected traffic to make them financially feasible. At the time that especially applied to a section that would travel in a large arc through sections of rural eastern Polk County between State Road 60 and Interstate 4.
There have been stealthy attempts to revive the eastern leg in recent years.
For instance, a plan to replicate part of the route from the south end of Powerline Road to Scenic Highway was contained in a list of unfunded transportation needs announced at recent County Commission retreats.
There are hints that it popped up again in the discussion of seemingly unrelated effort called the Northeast Polk U.S. 27 Mobility Study. That study was begun in 2019 purportedly to figure out ways to improve traffic flow on the section of U.S. 27 between State Road 60 and U.S. 192 at the Polk-Lake county line.
But if you dig deeper into the very preliminary comments and other local transportation planning reports, it becomes clear that this also became a vehicle to revive previously abandoned road projects such as the eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway.
This project, which was pushed largely be economic development officials in Haines City, is more troubling than the western leg because it would go through or near environmental preservation areas and rural homesteads in the Marion Creek and Reedy Creek basins.
The area is home to a number of rare and endangered species and is part of a statewide wildlife corridor and may include some land that could be considered for acquisition if Polk County voters approve a measure in November to restart funding of the Polk County Environmental Lands land-acquisition program by renewing funding for it.
The revival of the eastern leg popped up again in a May 6 notice published by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection seeking written public comments on the environmental impacts of this proposal.
The notice refers to the same phony claims about emergency evacuation, congestion management and more efficient freight movement that is part of all of the road-building lobby’s reports of this sort back in the pre-2015 presentations.
More recent analyses somehow want to make it an alternative corridor to U.S. 27, which is questionable because most of the traffic on U.S. 27 is likely headed to a destination along U.S. 27 or trying to reach Interstate 4 and not interested in a lengthy rural detour. All this road will cause is more urban sprawl.
Anyway, written comments are due by June 1:
Send them to:
Chris Stahl, Coordinator
Florida State Clearinghouse
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
3900 Commonwealth Blvd. M.S. 47
Tallahassee FL 32399-2400