Feasibility studies for four new Osceola toll roads at midway point

The Central Florida Expressway Authority is about six months away from deciding whether to build any of the four future toll roads planned for Osceola County's Southern Beltway.

Back in April, CFX hired four local engineering firms to reevaluate the studies that had previously been done for the toll roads: the Osceola Parkway Extension (OPE), the Poinciana Parkway Extension/I-4 Connector, the Northeast Connector Expressway and the Southport Connector Expressway.

Project spokeswoman Mary Brooks told GrowthSpotter those Concept and Feasibility Studies are now at their halfway point. 

"They're taking a fresh look at all these previous study corridors and reopening them under current policies and procedures," she said. "They're taking a look at the feedback from the earlier studies and at new conditions in the field."

The agency will host the second of three public kick-off meetings Tuesday in St. Cloud. The last meeting is Oct. 5 in Lake Nona.

The agency's agreement with Osceola County and the Osceola County Expressway Authority (OCX) gave it 18 months to complete the feasibility studies. Under that timeline, each of the firms is required to present its findings in March.

CFX has already added each of the proposed toll roads to the agency's 2040 Plan. The agency is relying on the engineering consultants to say if any of the projects are "viable" based on the review of old and new data.

For example, in the case of the OPE, engineers from CH2M are reexamining potential alignments that would take the 9-mile toll road through the Poitras Property south of Orlando International Airport. The Orlando City Council agreed to sell the Poitras Property to Tavistock Development Company in January.

OCX eliminated the alignments that bisected Poitras, eventually settling on a preferred route that runs parallel to Boggy Creek Road, as a part of its Project Development & Environmental Study (PD&E) for the extension. And OCX has already budgeted $70 million for right-of-way acquisition for the OPE. 

Brooks said the CH2M team has been meeting with Tavistock and other stakeholders to discuss the potential routes.

"You'll see some of the alternative alignments you've seen in the past," Brooks said. "They're reevaluating the ones that were good and looking at the ones that were eliminated to see if they agree with those decisions. Any of the routes that are on the maps are still under consideration."

Tavistock Spokeswoman Jessi Blakely said the company fully supports the CFX analyses, but otherwise had no comment regarding the potential routes.

Even though OCX had already completed a PD&E study for the OPE, CFX would conduct its own PD&E of the toll road project if it's considered viable, Brooks said. That means the road likely wouldn't be built for another 8-10 years, she said.

But Tawny Olore, Osceola County's executive director for transportation and transit, said that's wasn't the county's expectation -- especially since OCX has already budgeted $70 million for right-of-way acquisition. 

"CFX  is very, very efficient in the processes they use and their approach to projects," she told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday. "Once they do this viability test and they see a project that looks viable, they’ll look for the most efficient way to move that project forward."

She said there's no reason to start over with a new PD&E, which typically takes about two years, even if CFX ultimately chooses a different alignment.

"You could do an amendment to the PD&E," she said. "You can use data from the earlier study. It's actually quite common as you go through refinement and design. The I-4 project did several amendments."

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. 

Brooks said the consultants from Kimley Horn concur with the earlier study for that project, which recommended connecting to the interstate at either S.R. 429/Reunion or C.R. 532/ChampionsGate. 

"That’s a tricky one because it's a case where you're trying to thread the needle to minimize the impact on the communities there, and you've got the gas transmission lines. And it still has to work from an engineering perspective," she said.

The C.R. 532 (Osceola-Polk Line Road) option would resemble portions of the East-West Expressway (S.R. 408) near Lake Underhill -- where the toll road is elevated with frontage roads, Olore said. 

The study corridor for the Southport Connector Expressway begins at the Poinciana Parkway/Cypress Parkway intersection and extends east for 13 miles, through the county's South Lake Toho district, to the Florida Turnpike. 

At 25 miles, the proposed NE Connector Expressway is the longest portion of the southern beltway loop. It starts at the Turnpike and curves northeast, alongside Alligator Lake and through the future Sunbridge community to connect with the OPE. It would have multiple interchanges, including U.S. 192 near Harmony and Nova Road.

Brooks said the engineering firms would submit preliminary reports in January with a recommended route for each toll road, followed by another round of public meetings. 

"In some cases, they might recommend further study on more than one alternative, if they both work," she said. 

The final reports will be presented to the CFX board in March. 

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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