Kevin Kieft

Kevin Kieft

A recent article in Business Facilities called Florida an “economic super-state,” praising the way our state “excels at getting people, products and services anywhere.”

The article went on to mention Polk County, in particular the Intermodal Logistics Center in Winter Haven, and the miles of railroad that far outnumber those in any other county throughout the state.

We are certainly proud of those distinctions, but we would be remiss to overlook how success and growth has changed our county. Polk County, particularly the east side, has experienced a population boom in the past 10 to 20 years. Add to that an increase in tourism, commerce, and new construction, and it’s easy to see what drives our road quandary.

The rapid growth over the years has outpaced our transportation infrastructure. U.S. 27, our main thoroughfare for logistics, residents and tourism, is inadequate. At the Lake Wales Chamber-EDC, we are always looking to support, build and foster economic growth, but the payoff of that growth will be stifled if we don’t rise to meet change. Something has to be done if we want to continue growing and improving.

As a city, it would be irresponsible to sit back and watch our success and hard work blossom without making the right plans to accommodate it. When change occurs, the best plan of action is to meet it head-on — don’t wait until it’s too late.

The Northeast Polk County U.S. 27 Mobility Study is just one of the ways officials are looking to improve an overwhelmed substructure.

Its intent is to identify opportunities to improve mobility, boost safety and enhance the livability of the region.

U.S. 27 is critical not just for residents here in Lake Wales. It’s a vital north-south corridor throughout the state of Florida.

Proposed remedies at the heart of the study include: intersection improvements, frontage roads, additional lanes and sidewalks.

I am encouraged by this study, but I also think we need to go beyond improvements to the substructure that already exists. Making improvements to U.S. 27 is essential, but it won’t solve all the issues.

That’s why I continue to advocate for some type of alternative, limited access tollway though this part of the state. The newly approved section of the Central Polk Parkway, proposed to stretch from Polk Parkway at Winter Lake Road to U.S. 17, would help achieve this. This road would ultimately provide much-needed relief for U.S. 27 congestion and provide a key link between State Road 60 and Interstate 4.

However, we will continue to advocate for an eastern leg of the Central Polk Parkway which would connect somewhere up near State Road 429 and Interstate 4. This connection would serve our side of the county with better access and options to the Greater Orlando Metropolitan area.

It would do more than relieve congestion, though. It would give people a faster way to get to Orlando. I like to look at us as a distant suburb of Orlando, but to really claim that title we need better connectivity and more direct routes.

Once we improve access to local and surrounding metropolitan areas, making it safer as well, the pieces will start to come together and we can adapt and prepare for the exciting times of the future.

Kevin Kieft is the President and CEO of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Wales Economic Development Council.

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