POLK COUNTY — Drivers in northeast Polk will have to wait a few more years, but the widening of County Road 557, from Lake Alfred to its interchange with Interstate 4, will move ahead after the county commission last month okayed plans for the multi-laning of six miles of the overburdened two-lane road.
The $80 million project got the green light after the Polk Board of County Commissioners learned from its consultants that the best widening proposal would be to build a five-lane section at the south end of the road, in Lake Alfred, and then to switch to four lanes on through to I-4.
The county governing board already has the funds in its capital improvement budget, so funding is ready to go, according to County Manager Bill Beasley.
The county also okayed the purchase of two of the 16 houses it will have acquire for the project, to the tune of nearly $500,000.
The project has been on the planning boards of Dewberry Engineers, Inc., of Orlando, for the past 18 months. During that time the consultants investigated how best widen the highway, explained Kevin Knudsen, a vice president for the firm. Knudsen said most of the land needed would be taken from the west side of the existing road, with a potential need for other parcels, to the east, for drainage.
He told the five commissioners the urban design section closest to Lake Alfred would be five lanes, with a continuous center turn lane, and that the remainder would be four lanes, divided in two, with a grass median.
The engineer also explained that the five-lane section would have a sidewalk and a multipurpose trail to connect with existing trails, adding that the rural sections would only have the multipurpose trail and no sidewalks.
According to Knudsen and Polk County Road and Drainage Director Jay Jarvis, the next 18 months will be devoted to development of the final construction plans, followed by about the same amount of time for land acquisition.
Wade Allen, the county's real estate administrator, explained that the county had launched the rights of way acquisition with the two initial land buys and would either continue or start talks with the other parties whose property will need to be obtained.
“We've taken the first baby steps,” he told the board, “but the lawyers are already circling on some of the rest.”
He added that he expected some property owners would willingly sell their homes or land to the county, but speculated some would have to “go through eminent domain proceedings.”
The right of way process, Allen said, would probably take the county about another 18 months if condemnation is required.
He also explained to the county board the project is also conforming to construction standards set by the Florida Department of Transportation, because it will meld into the FDOT's reconstruction of the CR 557/I-4 interchange.