POINCIANA – When a car accident happened this week near Poinciana Boulevard, the result was predictable: chaos on the local roads.
It wasn’t that the accident led to a multiple car-pileup – it didn’t. But as Wendy Farrell noted, the problem with one car accident in Poinciana is that it brings traffic throughout the entire community to a virtual standstill.
“You couldn’t get out of Poinciana,” she said. “It was crazy. Everywhere you went there was gridlock. Traffic wasn’t moving anywhere. We just couldn’t get out of here even if we needed to.”
The 10 villages that make up Poinciana have grown considerably in the past decade, and now have a population that exceeds 80,000. But the community that cuts across Polk and Osceola counties hasn’t updated its road system in decades, and the roads that exist today can barely accommodate all the cars driving through Poinciana. As Farrell noted, it’s become a recipe for gridlock.
“We just really need another way out of here,” she said.
Farrell is a Poinciana resident and business owner who is also the chair of the Poinciana Area Council, a group of business owners in the community who meet once a month. At the council’s most recent meeting on Wednesday at Solivita, Farrell said there may be one thing that frustrated community residents can do to voice their concerns about the traffic situation: attend a public hearing on Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m. at Palmetto Elementary School, when state Sen. Paul Dockery, R-Lakeland, will bring representatives from the Florida Department of Transportation to the community to see if the state will help fund road improvement projects that have been on the backburner for years.
Farrell is urging local residents to turn out in force and let their voices be heard.
“It will be interesting to see if we can get anything out of FDOT,” she said. “We’re hoping for a good turnout.”
So is Keith Laytham, a member of Poinciana Residents for Smart Change, a group working to improve Poinciana – and it’s roads.
“It truly is a community meeting,” he said. “We’d really like to have every seat in the house filled up.”
Poinciana residents are eager to see action on three projects – all of which lack the money to get built.
“We have three major road projects on the books that have not been funded,” Laytham said.
That includes the Poinciana Parkway, a new toll road that would take residents from Marigold Avenue to U.S. 192 and then Ronald Reagan Parkway in Davenport, right near the Interstate 4 exit at ChampionsGate.
Avatar, the main builder in Poinciana, has been trying to get this project off the ground for years, and was slowed down because it would have cut across the Reedy Creek watershed in Osceola County, requiring expensive environmental permitting. But that’s been accomplished.
“The Poinciana Parkway was absolutely essential to the development plans in Poinciana,” Laytham said, adding that the environmental issues have been dealt with – but the project is still on hold because the cost of building it has skyrocketed.
“They’ve spent about $40 million and that (environmental work) has been done,” Laytham said. “But the cost has escalated anywhere from $120 million to $170 million. Avatar is not in a position to finance that themselves. They’re looking for help from Osceola and Polk counties.”
That’s highly unlikely in the short term. Both county governments sponsored ballot referendums in November 2010, asking voters to approve sales tax hikes to finance road improvement projects. The measures lost in both counties by wide margins.
At the same time, counties have traditionally financed road improvement projects through impact fees, or fees imposed on newly built homes, to help cover the infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate growth pressures.
But the counties are not collecting much in the way of new impact fees, since few new homes are being built, and the counties have imposed moratoriums on impact fees to help encourage new building following the collapse of the housing market.
“The taxpayers aren’t going to approve additional taxes anyway,” Laytham said.
The other two road projects are the Southport Connector, which would run nine miles from Pleasant Hill Road to the Florida Turnpike, and the Central Polk Parkway, a toll road that would run from Lake Wales across the eastern part of Polk County, where Poinciana is.
Laytham said if the counties can’t help fund these projects, perhaps the state can, which is why Dockery is bringing representatives from FDOT to the community.
“It’s really to let them become aware of what Poinciana is facing on our roads,” Laytham said, adding that anyone living in Poinciana who thinks the road situation is bad should have an obvious motive to turn out at the meeting.
“Anybody who doesn’t have a complaint shouldn’t come,” he said, adding that he doubts there are very many people in Poinciana who fit that criteria.
“Two FDOT representatives will be coming, and those members of FDOT will make recommendations to the governor on where the next construction projects will be built,” Laytham said. “And we’ve got several projects in Poinciana that we need the funding for.”
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