CFX study: new toll road would minimize impacts to Split Oak Forest

A new alignment for the controversial Osceola Parkway Extension that would reduce impacts to the Split Oak Forest is among proposals on the Central Florida Expressway Authority agenda Thursday. 

The route shifts the roadway slightly west, through the heart of the undeveloped Lake Ajay property recently acquired by Tavistock Development Company, to skirt the southern boundary of the Split Oak park. 

"Something had to be done," project spokeswoman Mary Brooks told GrowthSpotter. "This was a case of getting all the stakeholders in a room together and working toward something they could have a comfort level with."

The Osceola Parkway Extension (OPE) is one of two future toll roads that could move to the next planning stage.

The OPE, as originally envisioned, has drawn heated opposition from environmentalists because of the potential impacts to the Split Oak Forest nature preserve and to the affluent Lake Ajay Estates neighborhood.

In reevaluating the corridor, CH2M met with residents, activists and land owners to reach a compromise solution. 

The new route also would eliminate the need to take established homes in the Lake Ajay Estates neighborhood, and it reduces the impact to future homesites in Lennar/CalAtlantic's Southern Oaks planned development.

"It really is highly conceptual – it’s not fully engineered," Brooks said. "There was a lot of nudging and tweaking this thing in a way that's not typical of a conceptual study."

Tavistock paid $15 million in late January for the 200-acre parcel, likely to sell or donate right-of-way to CFX. The developer would be a motivated seller, since the toll road would provide direct connectivity between its three largest projects: Lake Nona, Poitras and Sunbridge.

As the owner of the Lake Ajay property, Tavistock would typically be entitled to compensation for each homesite in the approved planned development that would be affected by the toll road. But that figure could be subject to negotiation, as well.

Brooks said Tavistock officials have already been engaged in discussions of future land swaps with CFX.

"They've offered up a few packages," she said. "It's been a fluid discussion. They want their community to be well thought of and environmentally conscience. It's just bad PR to be the big bad guy." 

Osceola County Commissioners have already committed $70 million toward future right-of-way acquisitions.

The western segment of the toll road would go through the heart of the 1,800-acre Poitras Property, which is south of Lake Nona/Medical City. The alignment contains multiple interchanges in Poitras, which is city-owned property under contract to Tavistock.

CH2M estimates the road's viability would approach the 50 percent threshold to move it to the Project Development & Environmental (PD&E) study phase. 

Brooks said the new route hasn't been evaluated to the same extent as the other alignments, but if the CFX board votes to begin the PD&E phase, it would be included in the study.

CFX hired four different engineering consulting firms to conduct Concept Feasibility and Mobility studies for the four toll roads that would complete a 60-mile southern beltway loop for the regional agency. 

The Poinciana Parkway Extension/I-4 connector will also be recommended to move forward to the PD&E stage. 

Kimley-Horn concluded that two of three possible scenarios could meet the viability threshold. Both would utilize the C.R. 532 interchange at ChampionsGate as the I-4 connector, rather than heading north through Reunion Resort to connect at the S.R. 429 interchange. However, the Reunion alignment was not eliminated.

"Numbers wise, we had more folks who submitted comments in favor of this project than any of the others, but the funny thing is they tended not to be the people who would be directly affected," Brooks said.

The Poinciana Parkway Extension/I-4 Connector is a 13-mile extension of the existing toll road, which currently ends at U.S. 17-92 in Polk County.

The Kimley-Horn team has evaluated costs and impacts for 11 different scenarios. In this case, converting S.R. 429 to a full interchange results in significantly higher traffic counts, potentially 33 percent more vehicles per day. But it's also the more expensive option, with estimated costs generally in the $1.3 billion range.

The other option is to widen C.R. 532 and build an elevated toll road, which would cost around $1 billion. The least costly option could be to build the project in phases, ending the toll road at C.R. 532 and then improving the county road. That option would cost less than $600 million, but it also generates the least amount of revenue.

"You’ve got folks that think going along 532 is just making a bad situation worse," Brooks said. "So you might think it makes more sense to connect at the 429, but then you’ve got folks in Reunion who are concerned about their quality of life."

Two other toll roads, the Northeast Expressway Connector and Southport Expressway failed to meet the viability standard, Brooks said. They're still a part of the agency's 2040 master plan, and could be reevaluated based on population trends in Osceola County.

"We're putting them on a shelf for now until something in the community changes," Brooks said.

The CFX Authority Board meeting is Thursday at 9 a.m. 

Also on the agenda is the approval of the PD&E study of the S.R. 408 eastern extension through the Bithlo area toward Brevard County.

Metric Engineering recommended CFX proceed with an alignment just south of S.R. 50, and then dip further south to connect just north of the S.R. 520 interchange near Orlando Speed World. The total estimated cost is $708 million.

The Florida's Turnpike Enterprise initiated its own $4 million PD&E study in September 2017 of a possible S.R. 408 extension, dubbed Colonial Parkway, to be constructed within the existing S.R. 50 right-of-way.  

The CFX board opted to conclude its PD&E study as a back-up in case the Florida Department of Transportation or future administration elects not to build the Colonial Parkway project. 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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