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Updated: 12/27/2012 07:59:51AM

Easier access to I-4

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A day will come — although it’s still many years away — when motorists will see fewer trucks traveling along U.S. 27 and State Road 60.

A day will also come when trips to the theme parks in the Orlando area will be easier and faster for people in Lake Wales, Haines City and other places.

The Central Polk Parkway is a massive road project covering 45 miles that will extend south and east from the Polk Parkway and provide access to Interstate 4.

“It is going to enhance the north-south mobility,” said Lauren Hatchell, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. “It is going to provide a direction connection for I-4 and U.S. 17/92. So with that you can imagine the amount of traffic that would be able to get off some of those local roads especially in the eastern part of the county.”

There are eight construction segments for the project, according to FDOT. The segments include U.S. 17 to Polk Parkway, east Pollard Road 17, S.R. 60 to east Pollard Road, east CPP to east U.S. 27, east U.S. 27 to County Road 544, C.R. 544 to C.R. 580, C.R. 580 to U.S. 17/92 and 17/92 to I-4.

Every segment for the Central Polk Parkway is funded for 30 percent design. Segments 1-3 are in design during the current fiscal year and segments 4-7 are funded in the next fiscal year. Segment 8 is funded in 2014. However, there is no funding for subsequent phases, things including right of way and construction.

“It’s the beginning of our design; it is where we refine the locations of the segments … ,” Hatchell said in explaining the 30 percent mark.

Two of the proposed interchanges are at S.R. 60 east of Pollard Road and near U.S. 27 and County Road 540.

The proposed interchange on S.R. 60 would be close to the intermodal rail terminal near Winter Haven that is expected to be in operation in 2014. Increased truck traffic on S.R. 60 and U.S. 27 is expected when it opens, but how much is unknown.

“We don’t know what the actual numbers are going to look like until they are up and running,” Hatchell said. “It’s more of a rail hub and so it is going to be more trains as opposed to trucks. It’s not going to be necessarily all those trucks are going to be off-loading from that site. I don’t know to say that the truck traffic is going to increase significantly it might only increase marginally.”

Hatchell said being able to provide
an alternative route for trucks to access I-4 and get them off local roads such as 60, 27 and 98 “helps everybody.”

Ryan Kordek, transportation planning administrator for Polk Transportation Planning Organization, said the Central Polk Parkway is important for the future growth of the county. The county anticipates Polk’s population to be 995,050 by 2035.

There is lots of undeveloped land in Polk and that could provide opportunities for commercial as well as residential development. Kordek said the U.S. 27 corridor in the northeastern part of the county is going to grow.

Kordek said it is the biggest road project in modern times in terms of cost and length of the road.

“It’s a very expensive road project,” Kordek said.

For example, the segment from U.S. 17/92 to I-4 is five miles. Costs in the TPO’s adopted 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan show that the tab is $140.73 million for right of way and $240.33 million for construction. The total remaining costs for the segment are $381.06 million. This portion of the Central Polk Parkway is planned to be constructed by 2025.

Kordek is quick to point out that the numbers are projections and “almost guaranteed to change.”

The costs do not include the project development and design phases which have been completed or are planned within the next few years. The total of what is still needed for the Central Polk Parkway is $1.265 billion.

By comparison, the Polk Parkway cost $470 million in the 1990s, Kordek said.

Mark McDuff, senior business development manager for the Central Florida Development Corp., believes the project is going to further attract companies to Polk that will create jobs.

“One of the strengths of our county is the connectivity with major transportation networks,” McDuff said.