POINCIANA – A new report in a business publication that ranks Poinciana as the worst community in the nation for commuters may not be a major surprise to the people who drive from here to Orlando for a job.
But it could have one added benefit: giving this community of 84,000 people the ammunition it needs to convince Osceola and Polk County leaders to move forward on one of the most highly awaited projects in Poinciana, the Poinciana Parkway, a toll road that would link the community more easily to Interstate 4.
“Now everyone in the nation knows that the Poinciana Parkway is the number one needed road in the U.S.,” said Nick Murdock, chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, which is working to bring more jobs and business growth to the community of 10 villages that cut across Osceola and Polk counties.
“Now that we have the new Poinciana Medical Center starting, the Parkway needs to be the number one community priority for all Poinciana residents,” he said.
The Business Journals, a national business publication, just reviewed commute times in 3,764 cities, towns and villages, and Poinciana came in at the top, giving the community the unwelcome designation of having the worst commute in the entire country.
That’s not a major surprise, Murdock said, since this study “puts the spotlight on the community’s needs – as I sit here in rush hour traffic on Poinciana Boulevard.”
Keith Laytham, the president of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change – a civic group working to improve the community – said it’s no great surprise that Poinciana would rank so highly when it comes to lengthy commute times. The benefit of putting that misery index down on paper, he said, is that it can add to the ongoing debate about improving Poinciana’s infrastructure needs.
“I think this will play a very key role in that whole discussion,” Laytham said. “What is abundantly clear in that study, and what it says, is 48 percent of people in the Poinciana area on just the Osceola side alone have to commute 45 minutes each way just to get to their jobs. That’s a long way. That’s basically two hour a day wasted, not to mention the cost to gas.”
Many of the people living in Poinciana, he said, work at the theme parks or in Orlando. To get out of Poinciana, they need to take either Poinciana Boulevard or Orange Blossom Trail to a highway like U.S. 192 or the Osceola Expressway. Depending on where they live, it can take more than a half hour just to reach the exit for Interstate 4.
“It takes away from family time, and quite frankly it discourages people from moving into the Poinciana area,” Laytham said. “Without the jobs itself, who wants to move to Poinciana to go to a job in Orlando?”
Poinciana is often viewed as a bedroom community, not a major center for jobs. The villages here experienced a residential home construction boom in the past decade, with homes being built here every 90 days when the market was at a peak. But that population boom put a huge strain on the local roadways.
The main builder in Poinciana, Avatar, proposed the Poinciana Parkway, a toll road that will connect residents of Poinciana far more quickly and efficiently to Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Davenport , close to the Interstate 4 exit at ChampionsGate.
The project has been on hold for several years due to a lack of funding. Although government officials in both Polk and Osceola counties have expressed support for building the toll road, coming up with the money to do it has been a challenge in tough economic times.
Seven years ago, Avatar committed to building the Poinciana Parkway as a toll road, with the tolls helping to defray the construction and long-term maintenance costs.
But the overall price tag for this project 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.
In response, 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 the counties with few viable options for finding ways to fund projects like this one.
Murdock said the new Business Journals study should, at the very least, help add to pressure on county leaders to make a commitment to this project.
“I’m trying to get people lined up behind it,” he said.
PEDA is strongly supporting this project for another reason: it could bring hundreds of new construction jobs to Poinciana.
“The challenge it presents is who can build the roads,” Laytham said. “There’s only one entity that can build roads, and that’s government.”
Jeanette Coughenour, manager of the Association of Poinciana Villages – the homeowners association that represents the community’s 10 villages – said the study at the very least demonstrates how dismal it’s become to commute to a job outside of Poinciana, and how badly new roads are needed.
“Anything that can be used as ammunition is beneficial,” she said. “I believe the counties know that the situation is pretty dire. We know the counties’ financial positions are not that great right now, so we’re hopeful that if there can be any kind of public-private partnership, then things can be made to happen. Hopefully that’s how it’s going to work.”
Earlier this week, during a meeting in Kissimmee, the Osceola County Expressway Authority indicated it would get behind the construction of this toll road. Coughenour said the authority’s board of directors recognize this is a major quality of life issue for Poinciana.
With all that traffic congestion, “It’s a lot of wasted time,” she said. “It’s fuel costs, it’s lost money. Time is money. We’ll keep plugging away at this. Having better accessibility is a top priority.”
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.