POINCIANA – After six years of delays, false starts and major funding woes, the leading builder in Poinciana now has a significant new agreement with Osceola County to build the Poinciana Parkway, a toll road designed to get residents more quickly and efficiently to Interstate 4.
“I think this is probably the hottest story to ever hit Poinciana, certainly on a par with the hospital,” said Keith Laytham, president of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a civic group working to improve the community.
“The entire premise for the construction of Poinciana was that the community would be built, and as part of that the infrastructure would be put in place to have access via roads to the rest of Central Florida – jobs, education, shopping, the amenities of life. The bottom line is, that never happened as it was promised.”
Avatar Properties, the main developer in Poinciana, had proposed the Poinciana Parkway in 2006 as a toll road that would start at Marigold Avenue and continue to County Road 54 in Davenport, close to the I-4 exit by ChampionsGate. It could significantly cut down on commute time in and out of Poinciana.
Avatar had originally proposed that it would be a toll road, with the tolls collected on it used to cover the longterm maintenance costs. But the original price tag, about $40 million, ballooned out of control as Avatar faced challenges building the road through the Reedy Creek preserve, which is an environmentally protected area. Instead, Avatar was told the firm would need to build a four mile bridge over the preserve to keep it from being disturbed by the construction. That inflated the potential cost of the road to well beyond $100 million.
Now, Avatar has worked out a new agreement with commissioners in Osceola and Polk counties, and one of the most significant aspects of the deal is that the Poinciana Parkway will no longer be a private road.
“That agreement really changed the scope and the approach to building the Poinciana Parkway,” Laytham said. “The biggest change was the fact that Avatar said ‘We can no longer handle it ourselves as a private road, we need help.’ And the county said, ‘We understand that, and we’re willing to help, but we’re going to end up owning the road.’ “
“We’re very happy to see they’re moving in the right direction on the Poinciana Parkway,” said Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages. “It’s of vital importance to the community, and I am hugely optimistic following that meeting on Monday that this is a breakthrough. Everyone is on the same page. There’s light at the end of this tunnel,”
Under the terms of the new agreement, which was approved on Monday during a meeting of the Osceola County commissioners, Poinciana Parkway will be a public road owned by Osceola and Polk counties. As a public road, it will qualify for state and county funding, and can be included in Osceola County’s long term transportation plan.
“That is also very, very key,” Laytham said. “When Poinciana Parkway gets included, that means that Poinciana is now included in the long term plans for Osceola County, which it never has in the past.”
The agreement, presented to the commission by Osceola County Manager Don Fisher, states that the Poinciana Parkway will become a county-owned road, that construction on it will start no later than February 2013, and that it will get completed no later than May 2015.
Over the next nine months, Osceola County will conduct a new toll study that projects what the tolls collected from this new roadway are likely to be over the next 30 years.
And while Osceola County would obtain ownership of the parkway, the highway would be handed over to the Osceola County Expressway Authority to operate. The authority was created in 2010 to allow Osceola County to have its own agency to oversee road construction in the future. Previously, Osceola was under the supervision of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.
Patricia O’Beirne, a Poinciana resident who lives at Solivita, recalled her commute home on Jan. 13 from The Loop, the shopping plaza off the Osceola Parkway, when Cypress Parkway in Poinciana got shut down by a three car accident.
“I was just sitting in traffic when Cypress Parkway was closed for 45 minutes, and I sat there until I could inch into the parking lot of Publix and then turn around,” she said. “I was stuck there from 7 to 8 p.m. I was coming back from the Loop, the only place to shop. I made a u-turn onto Doverplum, and if the accidents had been below Doverplum, I would not have gotten home for another hour. There’s no way out of here. There’s 83,000-plus people here, and 50,000 of them drive, and that’s it, that’s the road – Cypress Parkway. Then you get to Pleasant Hill Road or Poinciana Boulevard. Those are the only ways out of here.”
O’Beirne attended the Osceola County commission meeting, and said she was thrilled to see some progress made on the Poinciana Parkway.
“I truthfully went there with very negative kinds of thoughts about what would happen, because it was just a workshop to inform everyone,” she said. “But I was really pleased with the agreement. Everyone took responsibility, and Poinciana Parkway will bring us access. They’re going to extend the road and make it four lanes. That will get some of the traffic flow in and out.”
Martha Moyano, another resident of Solivita, said she too felt this was an important breakthrough.
“I just recently got involved, so this is new for me, but I know this has been going on for years now for the residents here,” she said. “I feel like it’s going to happen, and that’s very positive.”
Laytham, who also attended the commission meeting, said this agreement finalizes and certifies that the project will get built.
“The agreement is not to study how to build the parkway, the agreement is to build the parkway,” he said. “This is the thing that Poinciana has been waiting for for a long, long time. And now the municipal bonds can be issued for the counties, so they can go get funding for this thing.”
It’s expected to cost an additional $120 million to build Poinciana Parkway, over and above the $47 million that Avtar has already put into this project. Of that amount, the lion’s share — $110 million – will be paid for by Osceola County, with the remaining $10 million coming from Polk County. Most of the highway will be in Osceola, not Polk, county.
O’Beirne said this project takes on a new urgency since Osceola Regional Medical Center is building the Poinciana Medical Center, the community’s first hospital, with a groundbreaking on Feb. 7. Unless new roadways get built, she cautioned, it will be difficult for ambulances to get in and out of Poinciana during rush hour.
“No EMS (emergency medical service) could get through, and no other ambulances,” she said. “There is no way out of here now. That would be a very large concern of mine, yes.”
Laytham said the project is long overdue.
“The amount of traffic that Poinciana generated because of the growth of Poinciana over the years has overwhelmed the roadways,” he said. “Another key part of what was supposed to be built for Poinciana was the Poinciana Parkway. It was in the discussion phase for years. I can tell you that when people bought houses in the boom year in 2006, they were told the Poinciana Parkway would be imminent.
“But up until yesterday,” Laytham added, “Poinciana Parkway seemed to be a fairy tale.”
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