By STEVEN RYZEWSKI | Executive Editor
POINCIANA — On August 29, the Central Florida Expressway Authority held an open house and public comment hearing at Poinciana High School.
The topic of discussion was a proposed expansion of the Poinciana Parkway, a project that — if undertaken — would represent a significant step toward connecting the roadway to Interstate 4. Currently, the Poinciana Parkway is a 7.2-mile toll road that begins at Cypress Parkway on its south end and travels north-northwest, turning into Kinney Harmon Road at its north end about three-quarters of a mile southeast of the U.S. 17-92 intersection. Originally built for use in 2016 by the then-Osceola County Expressway Authority, the toll road features all-electronic tolling as well as a 6,200-foot portion of the highway that is an elevated bridge over the Reedy Creek Swamp and other wetlands.
In 2018, the Osceola County Expressway Authority dissolved and turned control of its entities over to the Central Florida Expressway Authority.
The Project Development and Environmental Study that the Central Florida Expressway Authority has commissioned seeks to connect the road roughly three miles further north, toward Interstate 4, at Osceola Polk Line Road (County Road 532).
Mary Brooks, the Public Involvement Coordinator for the study on behalf of the Expressway Authority, says the project is important for a number of reasons, as it represents a step toward the larger goal of connectivity to I4, but also should help to alleviate traffic in Poinciana in the meantime.
“The Poinciana area has been one of the fastest growing in Florida for years — they have probably one of the worst commutes in the country,” Brooks said. “There are very few ways to get out of that community and it’s pretty horrific during peak hours.”
Brooks and other officials utilized the meeting and open house to showcase what has become the study’s preferred route. After looking at the environmental, social and physical impacts of several options, staff have settled on “5A” — a route that would turn the highway north where it currently ends, toward U.S. 17-92 and C.R. 532.
This route is described by staff as being the least obstructive and also the most cost effective. As it would largely travel over wetlands, it would require similar elevated bridges to those already on the toll road, which the study determined would have no adverse impacts to protected species known to be in the area (such as the gopher tortoise). It would require the least amount of disruption of existing homes and subdivisions and, with a tentative price tag of $280,075,000, it is the cheapest of the options.
“It has fewer social impacts, fewer environmental impacts and it also would have the highest traffic at about 25,000 vehicles per day,” Brooks explained. “You can’t design and build a new corridor like this without having some impact, but compared to other alternatives it has fewer impact and less cost.”
As originally pitched, the 5A Alternative would be built as four lanes (two traveling each way) but with space between to become an eight-lane toll road. This alternative would require two extended bridges over wetlands and would also have an interchange at U.S. 17-92. At its end, it would intersect with Osceola Polk Line Road in such a way that would allow for the later extension project to Interstate 4.
In total, the study suggests 66 acres of wetlands would be impacted by the road being extended.
Around 50 people attended the presentation and public comment hearing, though more were present earlier in the evening at the open house. No residents present took the opportunity to make a public comment, with some instead opting to do a written comment, but Brooks read aloud a public comment on behalf of homeowners from the Lake Wilson Preserve Community.
The main takeaway from the letter was that residents would prefer a project that went all the way to Interstate 4 as opposed to two projects over many years.
Brooks said this comment has been common as she and her staff have solicited feedback, with some residents feeling the proposed extension is more of a band-aid to the larger need of connectivity from Poinciana to the interstate. That eventual connection to I4, Brooks explained would require Federal and Florida Department of Transportation Coordination as it is a large undertaking. She said possible connection points could be at Interstate 4’s intersection with CR 532, near ChampionsGate, or at State Road 429, another toll road operated by the Expressway Authority that travels north through Winter Garden and Apopka.
The study will be presented to the Central Florida Expressway Authority in October, at which point it will be voted on whether to take the project to its design phase. If approved in October, a design phase would last roughly one or two years and land would still need to be acquired from landowners whose property is in the intended path, meaning actual construction is still several years off at best.
Public comment is still be solicited by staff through Sept. 9 to be entered into the record. More information on the project, and how to have your say, can be found at cfxway.com.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at firstname.lastname@example.org.