POINCIANA – Annette Brown-Best saw the electronic signs on the road, asking Poinciana residents to take part in a travel survey.
If she had known that the survey had to do the Poinciana Parkway, the new toll road that’s expected to be built and in operation by 2015, she would have responded to it a lot sooner.
“It said ‘travel survey,’ “ Brown-Best said. “It was an electronic sign that said ‘You can do a travel survey.’ I thought it was about going on vacation. Once someone told me what it was, I answered it. But it was poorly set up.”
Nestor R. Nuesch, a resident of the Solivita development on the Polk County side of Poinciana, agreed. He also took the survey, but felt that it could have been drafted and executed more professionally than it was.
“The survey was not good,” Nuesch said. “The questions were not properly asked.”
This travel behavior survey was put onto the Web site Survey-U.com to collect regional travel data for the Poinciana Parkway, on behalf of Avatar Properties, the main developer in Poinciana and the company that initially proposed building this toll road back in 2006.
Avatar is no longer responsible for the construction of the project, though, because the developer can no longer handle the cost. The original price tag, roughly $40 million, soared as Avatar faced challenges building the road through the Reedy Creek preserve, 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 work.
Not surprisingly, that inflated the potential cost of the road to well beyond $170 million.
Instead, Avatar turned to the county governments to complete the project. After several years of negotiations, the developer worked out a new agreement with commissioners in Osceola and Polk counties to get the Poinciana Parkway built. It will now be a public road owned by the two counties, and operated by the Osceola County Expressway Authority as a toll road.
The tolls collected on it would be used to finance the roadway’s long term maintenance costs. Osceola County recently conducted a toll study with projections on what the money collected from this new roadway is likely to be over the next 20 years. That study was expected to help Osceola County leaders secure bonds used to help finance the project.
But there’s a problem. The toll study recently came in, and the projections were well below expectations — which is why some of the parkway’s supporters, including Brown-Best and Nuesch, think a regional traffic study should be redone.
“The toll study came out, and it was lower than expected,” said Jeff Goldmacher, a Poinciana resident and business owner who supports the parkway’s construction.
“They sent it back for tweaking,” said Goldmacher, who is also a candidate this year for the Osceola County Board of Commisisoners. “The toll study of how many trips would go over the bridge came out at 14,000 (per day), and they had expected that number to be higher. They need more than 14,000 to go over the toll bridge so they can go out for the bonds for it.”
Because the Osceola Expressway wants to finance the parkway by issuing municipal bonds, they needed to have an updated toll study done. Avatar had done a similar toll study several years ago, which indicated the highway would get traffic of 15,000 cars per day at a cost of $1.50 per vehicle.
The new study, released late in May, showed that with no toll, the highway could expect 14,000 cars per day, but that with a toll of $1.50, that traffic volume would drop to less than half that number.
Nick Murdock, the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, which has been pushing hard for this project to get built, said the daily 14,000 ridership was actually quite a bit lower than what the Expressway Authority was expecting.
“At least 18,000 to 20,000 minimum is what they were looking for,” Murdock said.
Keith Laytham, president of Poincian Residents for Smart Change, a local civic group, called the study “preliminary,” and possibly wrong.
“The parkway would provide a 14 mile commute between the Marigold/Cypress Parkway intersection and the I-4 exit by ChampionsGate,” he said, adding that without the toll road, that route is 25 miles.
“It is even longer if you go Cypress Parkway up Poinciana Boulevard,” he said. “Thus for a commuter going to I-4 from Poinciana, the Poinciana Parkway would cut 11 miles off the trip each way. For a round trip commute, that would save 22 miles. Assuming a car with 22 miles per gallon gas mileage, that means the driver would save the price of a gallon of gas by taking the parkway.”
If the toll costs $1.50 each way or $3 round trip, Laytham said, and gas costs above $3 per gallon, “Why wouldnt everybody opt to pay the $1.5o toll to take the parkway rather than the longer Davenport (U.S.) 17/92 route? That does not even include the time saved by not having to drive the extra 22 miles each day? So there are issues with the preliminary toll study results. Hopefully the final study will be more favorable, but who knows?”
Goldmacher thinks the roadway is still going to get built, because Avatar and the counties have already invested too much into it. He called the toll study a bump in the road, not a major obstacle.
“When you have a project this size, you’ll have hiccups along the way,” he said.
Brown-Best said Avatar should redo its travel survey, and encourage more residents to fill it out to demonstrate there is strong public support for this new roadway designed to relieve traffic congestion in Poinciana.
“People from all over Poinciana will go to it,” she said.
Poinciana’s 10 villages now cut across Polk and Osceola counties, but the only major roadways in the community are Pleasant Hill Road and Poinciana Boulevard. Avatar envisioned the Poinciana Parkway as a new highway that would start at Marigold Avenue, and connect residents to County Road 54 in Davenport, close to the exit for Interstate 4 by ChampionsGate.
Laytham said since 2012 in an election year, Poinciana residents in both Polk and Osceola counties should ask candidates for the county commission what their position is on the parkway’s cost and projected construction — and hold their feet to the fire on the issue.
“I want to see which candidates want to stand before the voters from Poinciana and Pleasant Hill and tell them that if elected, they won’t support using Osceola County’s credit rating to back up the toll study report in order to get the parkway built,” he said.
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.
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