Polk Receives State Money to Help Keep Moving Florida Forward
As Polk County continues to grow, keeping up with infrastructure, maintaining it and planning for the future are critical components to ensure economic development thrives here.
But the county can’t do it alone, which is why the state sometimes helps.
ICYMI: Thanks to support and requests from the Polk Legislative Delegation, Polk County will receive millions of dollars in the state’s record $117 billion budget. A portion of that money will be used for studies that would lead to extending and improving roads in fast-growing Northeast Polk and Northwest Lakeland. It would also go towards increasing the water supply in the county. All of which also benefit Polk’s 17 municipalities.
“Water is necessary for future economic development of the Polk County region. PRWC (Polk Regional Water Cooperative) projects intend to provide future water supply while maintaining and improving the natural systems (lakes, rivers, and wetlands) in Polk County.” said Eric DeHaven, executive director of the PRWC.
Roads are also critical. Polk County benefitted when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his Moving Florida Forward initiative in January 2023. At that time, DeSantis announced that Polk County would receive $197 million. The money would go to improving the failing Interstate 4/State Road 33 interchange.
“Lakeland and Polk County have been lobbying to get construction money moved forward a couple years for that project,” said David Shepp, a lobbyist with The Southern Group and secretary/treasurer of the Central Florida Development Council. “Construction has now been advanced to 2024, moving it up four years from 2028. It’s the last interchange on I-4 to be addressed. They are going to redo it and add in a wildlife corridor crossing.”
Jay Jarvis, director of the Polk County Roads & Drainage Division, said traffic congestion is becoming real for residents and businesses.
“The need for an improved road network is one way to address this,” he said. “The need for capacity and connections on the road network is what the Roads & Drainage Division and the Polk County Transportation Planning Organization are constantly evaluating. These needs are not only more lanes on existing roads, but intersection improvements; new roads to provide connections and alternative routes; pedestrian features, such as trails, sidewalks, etc.; and mass transit.”
Jarvis added: “The ability for traffic and pedestrians to move throughout the county provides an environment that promotes economic development. It is very appealing to citizens and developers looking at Polk County to become their home.”
Polk’s delegation includes Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula; Sen. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, who is serving her first term after years in the Florida House of Representatives; Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade; Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland; Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven; and Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City.
‘There is recognition in Tallahassee that because of the sheer size of Polk County, it’s ripe for tremendous growth — and it’s coming,” Shepp said. “That growth cannot occur without a good transportation system and water to be able to support future priorities. We have to be prepared so Polk County can continue to grow the right way.”
That growth supports and is supported by robust economic development.
Manufacturing jobs are very important, high-wage jobs. And high-skill, high-wage jobs are what everybody is trying to attract, Shepp said. “They are jobs that have long life cycles. Bringing in that kind of growth while not addressing the road network is just not smart planning. Whether it’s people who have lived here for generations or just moved here, they are not going to want gridlock to get to their jobs.”
From the 2023 legislative session, Polk will receive $10 million. It will be used to determine the best alignment to extend Powerline Road in Haines City. This will help relieve congestion along the overcrowded U.S. 27. The three-lane extension will be built south in Dundee, providing an alternate route from Dundee to Davenport, Jarvis said.
“Due to the amount of development occurring in this area and the already existing congestion on U.S. 27, the development of alternative routes in this area has become very important to Polk County and the cities along the Ridge,” he said.
The county also will receive an additional $5 million. It will be used to determine the best alignment to extend Kathleen Road from North Socrum Loop Road to U.S. 98 at Rockridge Road in Lakeland, Jarvis said. “Kathleen Road has become an alternative route for traffic to move north and south instead of using U.S. 98. Currently, the four lane ends at Duff Road. This project would extend the four lanes from Duff Road to U.S. 98 at Rockridge Road as an alternative route to U.S. 98.”
The extension is needed, he said. “There continues to be commercial and industrial development along the I-4 corridor in west Lakeland in addition to some residential development. Providing alternative routes to major state roads is becoming a very important alternative. The state sees benefit in it and is providing funding for these types of projects.”
Also in the budget is $8.5 million for the PRWC, a group of 15 cities and the county who are working collaboratively to build capacity by providing adequate water sources to its members. The PRWC will use the money for several projects. This includes the Southeast Wellfield, a critical component to future water supplies that is being drilled near Babson Park.
“The Southeast Lower Floridan Aquifer Wellfield project is critical to secure the future potable water supply needs of the Polk County region given limitations on the use of the Upper Floridan aquifer,” DeHaven said.
Last year the state allotted the PRWC $20 million for the Heartland Headwaters project. DeHaven said the project is going very well. “Those funds are being used for the PRWC Southeast and West Polk LFA (Lower Floridan Aquifer) projects, as well as a number of member government projects.”
Shepp said local governments would be hard pressed to approve new neighborhoods or buildings if they don’t have the water supply necessary to support that growth. That’s why the top two projects on the PRWC list are two new wellfields, providing alternative water supplies. “They are systems that will help the city and the county and communities realize their water needs into the future.”