From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

On November 14th, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners had an informative discussion about the Mount Plymouth interchange and the Wekiva Parkway. Prior to the meeting, several residents from the Mount Plymouth area had expressed an interest in keeping this interchange open. Before going into the details of what was discussed at the Board meeting, it is necessary to discuss the history of the parkway because it goes back to 2004 and many people that have moved to the area may not be familiar with the background of this project.

The Wekiva Basin, consisting of the Wekiva River, the St. Johns River and their tributaries along with associated lands in the Central Florida region, is part of a vast wildlife corridor that connects Northwest Orange County with the Osceola National Forest. This region of Florida has experienced tremendous growth in the last 20 years resulting in increasing transportation demands and development pressure on lands within the Wekiva Basin.

Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

The desire to balance the transportation needs associated with projected growth and protection of the Wekiva Basin prompted Governor Jeb Bush to create the “Wekiva Basin Area Task Force” on September 26, 2002. The Task Force was charged with evaluating and making recommendations on the most appropriate location for a highway route connecting State Road 429 to Interstate 4 while providing the greatest protection to the Wekiva Basin. In addition, the Task Force was asked to evaluate and recommend a transportation plan that considered the potential expansion of roads and corridors within the Wekiva Basin to address, among other issues, the following: Land acquisition; springshed protection; innovative road design; protection of rural character; protection of habitat; utilization of financial resources; and the adequacy of local governments relating to transportation corridors.

Legislation to implement the Task Force’s recommendations was considered during the 2003 Legislative Session, but did not pass.

During its 2004 Legislative Session, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 1214 relating to the Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act. A House Bill (House Bill 849) similar to this bill was sponsored by then House Representative Fred Brummer; the Senate Bill was substituted for the House Bill. This legislation was designed to protect the Wekiva Basin by implementing the recommendations of the Wekiva Basin Task Force. As part of the legislation, it limited the number of interchanges for the parkway to 5 and specified locations from Highway 441 in Apopka to I-4 in Sanford. The one growth center will be located at the Kelly Park exit which is known as Kelly Park Crossings. All other lands in Northwest Orange County will have a minimum of 50% and a maximum of 70% of open space for all new developments outside of the Kelly Park interchange. In addition to the parkway specifications, the legislation addressed water quality as well as certain zoning restrictions for development in the basin area. Residents can access Senate Bill 1214 via the following link: http://archive.flsenate.gov/cgi-bin/view_page.pl?Tab=session&Submenu=1&FT=D&File=sb1214er.html&Directory=session/2004/Senate/bills/billtext/html/.

Additional legislation, the 2016 Springs and Aquifer Protection Act (Senate Bill 552), was passed and has added to what local stakeholders must comply with for the protection of Rock Springs and Wekiva Springs. Residents can access the Act via the following link: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/552/BillText/er/HTML.

As construction got underway for the parkway, the Florida Department of Transportation received a waiver to construct a temporary interchange at Mount Plymouth to help traffic flow as the parkway was built. Otherwise, it would have a dead-end segment. This temporary interchange opened in 2015 and is slated to close in 2018 once it is no longer needed. Since this interchange was never intended to be permanent, changing course could delay completion of the parkway. To have an interchange in this area would not only mean changing the state law, it would also mean building an entire new interchange at an estimated cost of $15 to $20 million, not including right of way costs. The Orange County Board of County Commissioners expressed a desire not to support a resolution to add an additional interchange on the Wekiva Parkway.

In comparison with other municipalities, the City of Apopka had voted unanimously against making the interchange permanent, and Lake County voted unanimously to make the interchange permanent.

Residents who wish to view the entire discussion may do so online at http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1. Once there, residents can click on the segment titled: Discussion Agenda Mt. Plymouth III. C. 1.

In future editorials, we will talk about protection of Wekiva Springs and Rock Springs that will affect septic tank owners, residential fertilizer use, sewer plants as well as municipalities located within the Wekiva Basin.

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