By PHIL ATTINGER
SEBRING — State road planners have studied how to widen and improve State Road 70 from County Road 29 to the area of Placid Lakes Boulevard.
Board members for the Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization told Florida Department of Transportation staff on Wednesday that they want the whole road widened — from Interstate 75 to Interstate 95.
“Widening is an extreme priority for every [county] commissioner up here,” said HRTPO Board Chair Terry Burroughs, Okeechobee County commissioner. “We need to have four lanes because hurricane evacuation east to west or west to east becomes a bottleneck.”
Burroughs and others on the HRTPO board have expressed concerns over the last two or three years, as Hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Dorian — all from sequential seasons — have sent people from the coast scrambling to the interior.
Evacuees still needed to move smoothly to other locations once they got into the Heartland, and a two-lane road won’t let them do that, board members said.
Referring to the area of State Road 70 that FDOT has studied, Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell referred to it as a “safety nightmare.”
Likewise, Ray Royce, who serves on both the Lake Placid Town Council and the HRTPO Citizens Advisory Committee, gave a brief reiteration of his feelings on the subject.
In the past, he has referred to SR 70, from U.S. 27 to the Okeechobee County line, as a “pinball” road with guardrails and canals on both sides that leave little room to maneuver and evade a potential wreck.
He also chided FDOT for funding studies of SR 70 in the urban areas of the coasts and not the Heartland.
“They are wasting time and resources studying [SR 70 from Okeechobee] to St. Lucie County,” Royce said. “People are dying on this road.”
As for the current study area, he suggested FDOT “not dickle around” with the area from SR 29 “to a cow pasture gate.”
Brian Kirkpatrick, civil engineer with RS&H Inc., said officials in Tallahassee have done some studies of the corridor, and staff at the FDOT District 1 in Bartow have followed up on that.
“We’re doing our best to predict the use by the stakeholders,” Kirkpatrick said, “10, 20, and 30 years later.”
Ultimately, there will be a corridor action plan, Kirkpatrick said, with input from all stakeholders and both short- and long-term solutions.
HRTPO members said that’s fine, as long as widening the whole route is part of that.
“Be open to reach out to us,” Burroughs said. “If you need help with the feds [to lobby for funding], we are starting to look at the process and see how we can affect it.”