November 23, 2016
By Ken Jackson, Osceola News Gazette
A ride from Solivita along Cypress Parkway near Poinciana to the Interstate 4 interchange at ChampionsGate now takes about 20 minutes.
Longtime residents of the area might joke that it would take a helicopter to do that — before Friday, when the second phase of Poinciana Parkway opened to the public.
The four-mile southern segment is now open from Cypress Parkway north to Marigold Avenue to meet the first phase from Marigold north across Shingle Creek to U.S. Highway 17-92 that opened April 30.
The toll road, with a 50-cent gantry near the exit at Koa Avenue and a $1.75 toll just before Shingle Creek Bridge for E-Pass transponder users (70 cents and $1.95 billed via the Toll-By-Plate system), was a project that local commissioners and developers have been fighting for as many as two decades.
Once work began in December 2013 — much ballyhoo-ed and much delayed — the northern end opened on April 30 and Friday marked the completion.
“This is a big day, it’s taken decades to get it done and get to this day,” said County Manager Don Fisher. “And it finished on-budget and on-time, so rare for a government person to say.”
Atlee Mercer, a county commissioner in the 1990s and the current chairman of the Osceola County Expressway Authority, oversaw much of the process that began in 2012 when AV Homes (then Avatar, the primary developer in Poinciana) donated much of preliminary work to get started.
Through county funding and some state money, the entire $90 million project got done, and has been paying for itself better than anticipated — paying ridership on the northern segment has been as much as twice as projected.
“This was the most desperately needed project in years. So many people in Poinciana have come to the conclusion that using Pleasant Hill Road as the only way in or out is not sustainable and would get worse,” Mercer said. “Two people made this happen, I’m not responsible. Don Fisher loaned me $15 million on a promise to get this done and pay him back. And (AV Homes Senior Vice President) Tony Iorio said, ‘I’ll give you everything you need: right of way, mitigation credits, the engineering. And our County Commission’s focus and hard work to see this through has been a monumental thing. I’m truly blessed.”
Iorio said Friday that the road had seen starts and stops because of construction issues and the downturn in the economy since about 1994.
“I can tell you all about the history of this. This is truly a historic moment in Poinciana, thanks to a tremendous team effort of leadership,” he said. “It links people, places and jobs and ties so many places to the community of Solivita. It’s a new link of prosperity.”
A ride from the southern end of the new road at Cypress Parkway, north to 17-92, a right turn and then a left on County Road 532 (County Line Road) took about 19 minutes to drive the 15 miles to the I-4 interchange after Friday’s ribbon-cutting.
The last six miles of that route are on open-access two-lane roads that involve two intersections with traffic lights. County Commissioner Brandon Arrington, whose district 3 includes the sections of Poinciana served by the Parkway, said the work isn’t over with the road’s full opening.
“We’re continuing to study how to extend our network north to I-4 and east to the (Florida’s) Turnpike,” he said. “This first leg shortens some people’s commutes by as much as 30 minutes, but we can continue to connect our region to Miami and the Port of Tampa.”