POINCIANA – Finding a private developer with the ability to inject some badly-needed cash into a critical Central Florida road project is likely to be the key to getting one of Poinciana’s most highly awaited, and long stalled, highway expansions off the ground.
The Poinciana Parkway, as now envisioned, would be a toll road that will connect residents of Poinciana far more quickly and efficiently to Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Davenport – which also happens to be very close to the Interstate 4 exit at ChampionsGate.
On Wednesday, officials from the Osceola and Polk County commissions met in Bartow to discuss this delayed road proposal, which has been on hold for years due to a lack of funding. Although both counties have expressed support for building the toll road, coming up with the money has been a challenge in tough economic times.
Nick Murdock, the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance – which supports building the Poinciana Parkway and is working to bring more jobs to Poinciana – said the two municipal governments met with officials from Avatar, the main home builder in Poinciana, and concluded that capital from a second private source could help make this project a reality, and quickly.
“No news was broken at the meeting, but we’re all going to get back together around the first of the year to report back to the commissioners,” Murdock said. “Avatar and Osceola County are redoing the assessment study as far as what the toll revenue will be. That will take a couple of months.”
As Murdock noted, the proposed roadway is being broken down into three categories.
“There’s three different sections on it — the Osceola section, the Polk section, and the toll section,” he said. It’s that final element, Murdock said, that will hold the key to this project’s future.
Poinciana, a community of more than 85,000 people, has 10 villages that are divided between Osceola and Polk counties. On the Osceola County side, the fastest way to get out of Poinciana is either by taking Poinciana Boulevard to U.S. 192 or the Osceola Parkway, or Pleasant Hill Road to Orange Blossom Trail. Either way, there are plenty of traffic signals to get past, and during the morning and rush hour commute, there have been lengthy traffic jams either way.
That’s why seven years ago, Avatar committed to building the Poinciana Parkway as a toll road that could connect residents directly to I-4, while the tolls would help defray the construction and long-term maintenance costs.
But those costs kept rising as Avatar was forced to get expensive environmental permitting for this roadway, since it would cut through environmentally sensitive wetlands area.
At the same time, the counties have been struggling to secure the necessary funding, because road projects like this one used to be financed through impact fees, or special fees imposed on newly built homes, and added to the overall cost of the house. Those fees dried up by 2008, when the housing market crashed and home construction came to a sharp halt.
Both Osceola and Polk commissioners asked voters in November 2010 to support ballot referendums to raise sales taxes to pay for future road projects, but both measures lost badly. That left both counties with few viable options for finding ways to fund projects like this one.
“I think they’re still searching for a solution and trying to figure out what to do,” said Jeffrey Jones, Osceola County’s strategic initiatives director.
Keith Laytham, the president of the civic group Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, said he’s traveled the proposed route that the Poinciana Parkway would take, and is convinced it would be of enormous benefit to local residents.
“Like the great explorers Lewis and Clark, I hopped into my car and drove the proposed route of Poinciana Parkway,” he said. “I also went up in my satellite and took some aerial pictures. I then went back to ‘explorer’ mode and drove the western route to get to I-4, as well as the Eastern route.”
Murdock said the fact that the Poinciana Parkway is a toll road makes a difference. If another business comes in to construct it and provde a financial investment in the road, they could recoup some of the costs from the tolls.
“It’s pretty much shovel ready when they get funding in place,” Murdock said. “All the players are involved now, so it was a very good and positive meeting.”
In fact, PEDA had been counting on some of the construction jobs that the Poinciana Parkway would generate as a good source of employment for the community, and had scheduled a job fair on Jan. 19 at the Poinciana Community Center to invite businesses to connect with local workers.
Murdock said that job fair just got pushed back to March 1 to give businesses more time for projects like this one to materialize.
“I talked to the contractors and they would need another month or so before they could hire,” he said. “So we’re not going to have the fair unless we have the contractors actually hiring.”
The Poinciana Parkway isn’t the only construction project coming to Poinciana sometime in 2012 or 2013. Other projects include the widening of Poinciana Boulevard, slated to begin in January; the construction of Poinciana’s first hospital, emergency room facility, and a Medical Arts office building by Osceola Regional Medical Center of Kissimmee; and the train station being built here, at Poinciana Boulevard and John Young Parkway, as the final stop on the SunRail commuter rail line from downtown Orlando into Osceola County.
Murdock said he expects more than 7,000 jobs to be created from these projects.
“I think that’s very realistic that we will have that many,” he said. “But we want to make sure that when we have the job fair that they’re taking resumes and interviewing people. We have 10 to 12 (employer) candidates available for that now.”
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