Being a Sebring High School student who lives in Sun N’ Lake, the opening of the Panther Parkway opened a new option when it comes to routes to school. Needless to say, I was pretty happy when the road opened for the first time in December. It saved me a few minutes getting to and from school because it did not have as many lights as the original Sebring Parkway. Not only was it my way to school, but also my route to my morning runs, the Highlands News-Sun office, and anything I need to do in Downtown Sebring.
Looking at the Panther Parkway now, I have one serious question: was the Panther Parkway worth the money?
I tend to use the Panther Parkway at a variety of times throughout the day, from early in the morning to the late afternoon, and I have yet to see enough traffic on Panther Parkway to warrant its cost. One of the biggest roles that this road was supposed to play was to connect large trailers from Sebring to Avon Park and avoid U.S. 27. I could see this working considering how many lights are in between Downtown Sebring and Avon Park. This purpose was basically scrapped because of the roundabouts that the county government opted to implement. Any large vehicles cannot navigate a roundabout without the dangerous possibility of tilting on its side.
That leaves the obvious purpose for a road of this magnitude is just general traffic and attempting to lower the amount of cars on the highway. However, this was clearly not realized as made obvious with the small amount of cars on Panther Parkway at any given moment.
In addition to Panther Parkway, residents already had the option of taking State Road 17 to get to that same route. The Panther Parkway was meant to give Avon Park residents a way to get to Downtown Sebring, something State Road 17 already was doing. Even if there was enough traffic to warrant a Panther Parkway, the speed limit is no help. The speed limit at 45 miles per hour is 10 less than U.S. 27, so it becomes a give and take with the highway. You can either travel less at a slower speed or further at a faster speed.
Considering this, I firmly believe that resources could have been better spent on different infrastructure projects. For example, the local government touts our county as a central location, meaning it is great for manufacturing companies. Yet, our access to the coasts is limited by a two-lane road, which slows down traffic.
This is a valid point that Jeff Carlson, a candidate for the Board of County Commission, raised and that really caught my attention. He proposes “regional cooperation” by working with neighboring counties. The county could have widened the roads towards our coasts that are within our jurisdiction and worked with neighboring counties to widen their sections. This would truly take advantage of our central location, meaning more manufacturing jobs, meaning a better local economy, and a better county overall. Another area that needs improvement is travel from South Highlands County to Downtown Sebring.
South Highlands Avenue is only a two-lane road and is constantly filled with traffic. Drivers have two options to get from South Highlands County to Downtown Sebring, Lakeview Drive and South Highlands Avenue. The problem is that both of these options are only two lanes across, meaning slower traffic and longer commuting times.
Miguel Arceo is a student athlete at Sebring High School.