1.66 billion Wekiva Parkway gets approval!


After years of planning and disputes, the $1.66 billion Wekiva Parkway appears set to break ground this fall after winning approval today from a key regional transportation board.

MetroPlan Orlando, which sets policy in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the parkway, despite misgivings that some other important road projects might be postponed as a result.

“There comes a time when all the stars align,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer just before the 17-2 vote.

The last remaining hurdles appear to be largely formalities: Finalizing a finance plan between the state and the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority and selling bonds to pay for what would be the most expensive road in Central Florida history.

If all goes as planned, construction could start at the west end of the parkway, near Apopka. Work on the east end, where the toll road links with Interstate 4, might not begin until 2017. The parkway would largely follow S.R. 46 and be complete by 2021.

Transportation officials have talked for years of building the 25-mile-long parkway, which would complete the beltway around greater Orlando.

But support for the parkway began to falter late last year, when the state Department of Transportation announced nearly $300 million worth of road improvements in Central Florida would be delayed by months or years because of a shortfall in gas taxes and other fees.

That led some politicians to argue it might be wiser to postpone the parkway, which would allow the other road work to proceed. Seven projects in Orange and two each in Seminole and Osceola are being bumped.

But FDOT managers argued the road had to be built now because they had gathered enough money. A delay, they said, would result in those funds likely being spent in other areas of the state.

As it stands, the expressway authority will spend about $530 million on portions of the road within Orange County, while FDOT and the agency that operates Florida’s Turnpike would contribute more than $850 million. Another $220 million would come from the expressway authority as it repays money it owes the state.

The parkway, which would be elevated as its crosses the Wekiva River and basin, would link Mount Dora in Lake with Apopka in Orange and Sanford in Seminole.

Even though it completes the loop around Orlando, authority studies suggest the parkway will do little to relieve congestion on I-4.

dltracy@tribune.com or 407-420-5444 Orlando Sentinel January 17, 2012

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