The need for the Connector is supported by local and regional land use, economic and growth objectives based on the following factors:
- Improve roadway connection from I-4 to Poinciana: The majority of the Poinciana area’s residents are employed in Orange County. Therefore, a new connection to I-4 will provide an alternative route to jobs and employment centers.
- Enhance mobility: Due to the anticipated population and employment growth in the study area, the proposed facility will play a critical role in accommodating travel demands and improving the movement of goods and people.
- Improve overall traffic operations: The proposed facility would relieve congestion on local roads by separating local and regional traffic.
- Promote regional system linkage: The proposed facility is identified in MetroPlan Orlando’s 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan. The proposed Connector is part of a planned limited access, high-speed toll facility identified in the Osceola Expressway Authority (OCX) Master Plan to serve the Osceola County’s urban growth area.
- Support economic development: A new connection to Interstate 4 would enhance access to employment centers (for residents of Poinciana) and housing opportunities (for employees of the tourism industry).
- Enhance emergency response/evacuation: According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management Evacuation Route and Zone Maps for Osceola County (April 30, 2012), there is no evacuation route that directly serves the Poinciana community. The proposed connector will provide a direct connection to I-4, thus enhancing emergency evacuation.
This project was initially developed as part of a study conducted by the former Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) and further refined by the Osceola County Expressway Authority (OCX). The OCX Master Plan (Click here to view official OCX Web site) envisions a continuous expressway linking planned growth areas throughout Osceola County. The OCX Master Plan consists of five major projects in various stages of development, described below:
- I-4 Poinciana Parkway Connector (from Interstate 4 to the Poinciana Parkway) (subject project – PD&E Study phase ongoing)
- Poinciana Parkway (Click here for link to website) (from U.S. 17/92 near County Road 54 to Cypress Parkway) (construction began in 2013, and the segment from Marigold Avenue to U.S. 17/92 was opened to the public as a tolled facility in May 2016)
- Cypress Parkway Connector (from Rhododendron Avenue to Pleasant Hill Road) (A PD&E Study has not yet been initiated)
- Southport Connector (Click here for link to website) (from Pleasant Hill Road to Florida’s Turnpike) (PD&E Study phase ongoing)
- Northeast Connector Expressway (Click here for link to website) (from the Southport Connector to the Osceola Parkway Extension) (project not currently advanced beyond planning phase)
- Osceola Parkway Extension (Click here for link to website) (from Boggy Creek Road to the planned Northeast Connector Expressway) (PD&E Study phase ongoing)
PD&E Study Process
The FDOT developed the PD&E Study process to ensure that projects receiving federal funding follow the policies and procedures outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969. The PD&E Study process is a blending of preliminary engineering, social and natural environmental impact assessments, public involvement activities and agency coordination. In summary, it is a planning tool used to develop transportation improvements that are technically sound, environmentally sensitive, economically feasible and socially acceptable.
The PD&E Study process is outlined below:
Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM)
At the beginning of the study, initial corridors representing potential roadway alignments are screened through the Efficient Transportation Decision Making process. These corridors are evaluated using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data that contains information related to the social, cultural, natural and physical environment. The purpose of this early evaluation is to obtain public and regulatory agency input and identify potential fatal flaws. To learn more about the ETDM process, please visit the following website: etdmpub.fla-etat.org (project number 13957).
The first step in the study process is the collection of available information within the study area including, but not limited to, existing roadway characteristics, traffic forecasts, land uses, development plans, utilities, soil conditions, wetland and floodplain locations, wildlife habitat, environmentally sensitive lands, community features and several other characteristics.
Once data collection is complete and the transportation need has been determined, the corridor options evaluated in ETDM are refined and further evaluated. The alternative development process involves developing roadway concepts that meet the project objective in an environmentally responsible, socially acceptable and cost feasible manner while incorporating public and agency input. The alternatives are then compared to the “no-build” alternative. The no-build alternative assesses future conditions with no transportation improvement in place.
Following corridor development and evaluation, concepts are further refined into initial alternatives, then viable alternatives and finally a locally preferred alternative. The no-build option remains a viable option throughout the study. The graphic to the right depicts the corridor – alternative refinement process.
Prior to and in conjunction with alternatives development, environmental evaluations are conducted to assess and document potential impacts an alternative or alternatives would have on the natural environment (wetlands, floodplains and wildlife habitat), social environmental (communities, neighborhoods and noise sensitive sites) and the physical environment (existing infrastructure and other special features).
Public Involvement is one of the most important parts of the study process. Public meetings, small group meetings, elected/appointed officials involvement, stakeholder coordination and community outreach take place throughout the duration of the study. The I-4 Poinciana Parkway Connector PD&E study will have a series of events including three public meetings and a public hearing in addition to small group and agency meetings.
Once alternatives have been developed and evaluations have taken place, a Recommended Alternative will be further analyzed and taken to the public for review and comment. Once the Recommended Alternative is determined to be the option best suited for the project, it becomes referred to as the Locally Preferred Alternative.
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Acceptance
The FHWA is referred to as the lead agency responsible for the project. After all comments from the public hearing have been addressed, project reports will be finalized and submitted to the FHWA for approval, which is officially referred to as location and design concept acceptance. Once this acceptance is received, the study phase of the project will be complete and ready to enter the final design phase.
The following graphic illustrates the Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study process.