Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise officials will be showing their drawings to Polk County again this summer when they give County Commissioners a look at the preliminary layout of the highway segment that will replace the county’s dead Northern Connector and tie the Central Polk Parkway to State Road 60.

Turnpike officials say the initial Central Parkway segment, from the Polk Parkway’s Winter Lake Road interchange to U.S. 17, is already being designed and that the alignment has already been approved by the county board.

Planners will give commissioners a look at how the limited-access road will cross U.S. 17 and tie into S.R. 60, east of Bartow, as well as how much land they will have to buy and an educated guess on how much it may cost to build.

The link has long been on the county’s radar. Former County Commissioner and current State Rep. Melony Bell pushed for money to build the connector, with state and federal transportation departments, but previously to no avail.

“We applied repeatedly for federal funds to pay for extending Smith Boulevard to 17 to 60, but couldn’t get federal grant money to build it,” says Assistant County Manager Tom Deardorff. “It was the TPO’s number one project for years.”

The project, handed off to the Turnpike, last year got a legislative boost when State Sen. Kelli Stargel jump-started funding with a $15 million allocation.

“It has been a high priority for a long time,” Stargel said then, touting the proposed road’s ability to alleviate truck traffic through congested intersections in Bartow.

The county’s own transportation planning group, the TPO, has had this project — or a semblance of it — as its number one priority for nearly a decade.

Turnpike staff will informally brief county commissioners on the proposed alignment, right of way requirements and projected construction costs on May 23, then again at a formal board meeting on June 6, before taking the plans to the public later in June, said Turnpike Planning Manager Carol Scott.

The date or location of the public information meeting had not been set late last week.

As plans are being prepared, right of way and construction costs will also be nailed down, Scott added.

Scott said no money was appropriated for construction in the Turnpike’s five-year work program, but some reports say ground could be broken to start construction in 2024 or 2025.

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