Lee Road “Punch-Through” Travels a Long and Winding Road
|In response to citizens’ questions about the planned extension of Lee Road through to Denning Avenue, the Mayor, Commissioners and City Manager maintain that the decision is “out of their hands” and will be decided by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
The Lee Road extension has languished on FDOT’s priority list since 2004. With developments popping up like mushrooms in northwest Winter Park, however, there is renewed interest in reconfiguring the intersection of Lee Road and 17-92 and extending Lee Road through to Denning Drive.
MetroPlan Orlando, City Officials, Experts & Citizens Guide FDOT Decisions
FDOT Public Information Specialist Jessica Keane was willing to shed some light on how this process works, explaining that the planning process begins not with FDOT, but with MetroPlan Orlando (MPO), the “metropolitan planning organization for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties – the Orlando Urban Area — and provides the forum for elected officials, their staff, citizens, and industry experts to work together to improve transportation in Central Florida.” FDOT only adds projects to its priority list which are first recommended to them by MPO.
The MPO Board is made up of 25 mayors, commissioners and various officials from transportation agencies. Serving on the current board are the mayors of Altamonte Springs, Apopka, Kissimmee, Orlando, Orange County, and Sanford. While Winter Park has no representation on the MetroPlan board, Mayor Kenneth W. Bradley, with City Manager Randy Knight as his alternate, sits on the 15-member MPO Municipal Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the MPO for their consideration.
Lee Road #10 on the Priority List
The MPO creates a Prioritized Project List for the FDOT. The current list, dated September 11, 2013, puts the Lee Road extension at #10. The components of the project currently unfunded include the preliminary engineering design, construction and right of way acquisition.
Frank J. O’Dea, P.E., Director of Transportation Development, Florida Department of Transportation, District 5, provided the Voice a copy of the 2004 Project Development and Environmental Study (PD&E) concerning the Lee Road extension. The 2004 PD&E contains the history of this road extension proposal, and it makes clear that the City of Winter Park was a full partner in the decision to add this project to the priority list.
City Gave Thumbs-Up to Punch-Through 10 Years Ago
According to Mr. O’Dea, officials of any city are actively involved in decisions concerning a road project that will directly affect that city.
For example, the 2004 PD&E includes a June 2, 2004, Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Winter Park and FDOT, signed by then Mayor Kenneth Marchman, which states, “. . .the parties hereto mutually agree that the extension of Lee Road to Denning Drive and the improvements to 17-92 from Norfolk Avenue to Monroe Street, will benefit the traveling public and will enhance the transportation system in the area.”
O’Dea explained, “Since the PD&E is several years old, the Department would need to update the traffic reports that formed the basis of the PD&E to see if the assumptions made at that time revealed the same conclusions. Since there is some renewed interest in this project, the Department is moving ahead with the traffic reevaluation.”
Large Turn-Out for 2003 Hearings
According to the 2004 document, public workshops and hearings were held to give residents and businesses an opportunity to voice their opinions. The first public workshop, held April 23, 2002, was attended by 41 people who expressed no opposition to the project. At a second Public Workshop on May 8, 2003, however, at which 81 residents were present, “Opposition to the Lee Road extension was voiced by several members of the communities located near and north of Park Avenue and Denning Drive.”
On November 13, 2003, a formal Public Hearing was held, “which approximately 85 persons attended.” Written comments were submitted as part of the official public record, but those were not included in the PD&E provided to the Voice by FDOT.
Ms. Keane acknowledged that turnouts, respectively, of 81 and 85 people are significant for a Public Hearing for a road project.
Despite residents’ dissent, the conclusion drawn in 2004 through the Public Involvement portion of the study states: “FDOT developed the proposed project with input and consensus from representatives from local government agencies including MetroPlan Orlando, and the City of Winter Park, as well as from the general community. As a result of this extensive public involvement program, potential public controversy was minimized.”
Ten years later, MetroPlan Orlando Executive Director Harold Barley wrote in an email, “We have a long-standing interest in addressing the traffic congestion on US17-92 between Webster Avenue and Lee Road. The current Webster Avenue-Lee Road configuration is the cause of the problem and earlier work concluded that the only effective fix was the Lee Road extension.
MetroPlan Director: New WP Development Is “Good Reason” to Consider Accelerating Punch-Through
“At the rate things are going with federal and state funding for projects such as this, it’s going to take a number of years to get to this one. I’m not aware of any current activity on the project — but the new development that’s underway on both sides of US17-92 in that area gives us a good reason to dust off plans and to bring some people together to see where things stand, how current development plans fit with earlier work . . . and to see if things might possibly be accelerated.”
Sprinkel Opposes Lee Road Extension
In a recent interview with the Voice, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel stated, “I don’t support a punch-through. . . I don’t want to make it easy to have a big flow-through there [ at Denning ].” (See Video @ 14:00)
McMacken Calls for Public Workshop
At the March 24, 2014, Commission Meeting, Commissioner Tom McMacken said that FDOT had stated their intention not to conduct a new PD&E. McMacken called for the city, the city’s traffic consultant and FDOT to hold a public workshop to inform citizens about the status of the Lee Road extension and to provide a forum for their comments. The commissioners did not reach any decision on the subject of a public meeting.
UP Developer Will Help Pay for Punch-Through If Necessary
Asked whether he intended to donate right of way or funds to facilitate the process, UP Development’s Scott Fish wrote that his company “will provide any assistance necessary to provide proper access and circulation to this project [ UP Development at Webster and US 17-92 ] including the acquisition of ROW [ right of way ] and contributions to road construction cost.”
City Manager Randy Knight wrote that discussions with Mr. Fish about UP Development’s involvement in the road extension “are still ongoing.”