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Polk County Continues to Improve Infrastructure to Accommodate Increasing Growth 

May 22, 2024 News

As Polk County’s population continues to attract new businesses and residents, keeping up with infrastructure needs remains critical.  

Quality infrastructure allows residents and workers to move throughout an area efficiently, therefore expanded roadway systems makes that better. In addition to increasing capacity, transportation planners also look at connectivity to get people from point A to point B using alternative routes to distribute traffic load over an area.

“Generally, people and businesses are looking for limited traffic congestion in getting to and from work and transporting goods through the area,” said Polk County’s Deputy County Manager Ryan Taylor.

Taylor said the county is building road capacity projects for today’s population, but it always has an eye toward the future. 

“We build roads to handle projected traffic associated with business and residential growth.,” Taylor said. “When a road reaches its capacity, we develop plans to accommodate increased traffic flows and enhance efficiencies to pull traffic away from main thoroughfares and strengthen auxiliary road networks.”

Polk County Road Infrastructure

Two major road projects nearing completion are: 

  • Lake Wilson Road widening – $44 Million, to be completed in May 2024 
  • West Pipkin Road widening – $44 Million, to be completed in November 2024 

These roads are in the pipeline to be built/expanded in the next two to three years: 

  • North Ridge Trail, a four-mile stretch from Deen Still Road to Sand Mine Road, is being built. 
  • Thompson Nursery Road from U.S. 17 in Eagle Lake to U.S. 27 is under construction. 
  • CR 557 is being widened from two to four lanes from Interstate 4 south to U.S. 17/92 in Lake Alfred. 

According to Polk County government’s website, there are: 

  • More than 2,750 centerline miles of roadway (that’s more than some state transportation departments) 
  • 182 bridges 
  • 500 miles of sidewalks and 600 miles of drainage pipes 
  • 125,000 traffic signs and nearly 300 traffic signals 

Interstate 4

On April 3, 2024, Gov. Ron DeSantis accelerated expansion work on Interstate 4 in Polk County through the Moving Florida Forward Initiative. The I-4 Moving Florida Forward projects include widening 14.7 miles of I-4 in Polk and Osceola counties in multiple segments from six to 10 lanes.

“It consists of adding lanes to the existing roadway and then adding toll lanes, known as ‘managed lanes’ in the middle,” Taylor said. “Typically, the managed lanes are two lanes in each direction. This will create additional capacity in the roadway and therefore allow more traffic to move through the area.” 

Such lanes are being used in parts of Orange County, and the expansion into northeast Polk County will relieve the congestion from U.S. 27 to Champions Gate and State Road 429.  Work is scheduled to begin in the fall. This will allow that project and ones on the nearby Poinciana Parkway to be completed 10 to 20 years ahead of schedule.  

Proposed I-4 widening between U.S. 27 & Champions Gate

Once completed, it will help relieve congestion, mostly from U.S. 27 in Haines City to the east, for the nearly 818,330 people who live in Polk. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 26,000 people moved to Polk County in 2023. This is the highest net migration to any county in the United States. 

Unlike many city and county roads, I-4 is funded by federal money as part of the Interstate Highway System. The county is responsible for county roads like County Road 540A in Lakeland. Often government agencies work together to provide funding for road and bridge improvements.  

Florida builds and maintains state highways, roads and bridges, relying on motor fuel excise taxes. However, this funding mechanism is becoming inadequate as the state continues to grow. According to the Alliance for Transportation Electrification and Drive Electric Florida, fuel tax revenue will decline by $288 million from 2019 through 2030, caused by cars’ increased fuel economy. 

Water Infrastructure

Water supply is another issue that the county continues to analyze. The goal is for residents and businesses to have an adequate supply in the next five, 10, and 20 years. 

“Continued economic development requires good infrastructure, such as water supplies, to provide quality of life to residents,” said Eric DeHaven, executive director of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative. “The Southeast and West Polk Wellfield projects will provide alternative water supplies to Polk County residents while also protecting the region’s environment.”  

As Polk County continues to attract more diverse industrial projects including several advanced manufacturing opportunities, water availability and stormwater capacity are leading competitiveness issues for the Central Florida Development Council (CFDC). The reshoring and onshoring of manufacturing is accelerating and so too is the size and magnitude of those projects. Processes that are producing products, employing hundreds of local residents and investing heavily within the County may also need higher than usual water for production and increased off-flow capacity.

Building Water Capacity in Polk County

When Polk County was told it no longer could depend on the Floridan aquifer to supply its future water needs, it created the Polk Regional Water Cooperative (PRWC), which was tasked with: 

  • Identifying alternative water resources and projects to ensure the sustainability of our water supply. 
  • Encouraging the responsible use of water through a conservation program. 
  • Determining what future infrastructure is necessary. 

In the past few years, the PRWC developed a strategy with its partner cities and the county, leading to the creation of the Southeast Wellfield and West Wellfield. Those wellfields are in the development stages.

Southeast Wellfield

The final design of the $464 million Southeast Wellfield will be completed this fall. Construction on the Water Treatment Facility will begin in early 2025, DeHaven said.  

“Construction on the Transmission System will also begin early next year; however, we do have an early construction piece of 7,000 feet starting this fall to coincide with developments being constructed. Drinking water delivery – 7.5 million gallons a day — will begin in early 2028.” By 2045, the wellfield will produce 16.3 million gallons of drinking water daily. 

Southeast Wellfield Design Rendering from PRWC Website

West Wellfield

The final design of the West Polk Wellfield is scheduled to begin later this year. Construction will begin in 2026 and water delivery in 2029. As with many massive projects, the schedule is subject to change for the $181 million wellfield, which will produce $7.8 million gallons a day when complete. 

Polk County is aggressively planning for the future – examining opportunities for increased capacities and collectively working to manage growth.

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