A two-year widening project reaching the Interstate 4 junction at Turkey Lake and Sand Lake roads in Dr. Phillips will improve F-rated traffic when finished.
| 4:00 p.m. January 7, 2016
DR. PHILLIPS For many residents in Central Florida, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and traffic.
Dr. Phillips might know this last certainty better than any other area, especially with its notorious Interstate 4 interchange at the intersection of Turkey Lake and Sand Lake roads.
And for congestion in that area to improve, construction first will have to worsen what is already touted as one of Orlando’s five worst intersections.
“It is probably the worst intersection in Orlando,” local resident Jim Pasquinelli said. “I get tired of hearing about how Horizon West and Winter Garden are having their communities planned so elegantly, with parks and bike trails … and I can’t even get to a store in a reasonable amount of time. It’s ridiculous.”
Orange Tree resident Bill Hayes said the traffic issues have become a public safety concern to the point it reaches Orlando International Airport and interferes with emergency vehicle access.
Another local resident, Jeffrey Yorinks, said waiting more years for traffic relief would put traffic at a standstill.
“I have watched an ambulance try to get by and (get stuck),” Yorinks said. “You want it to get there on time or people die, and it’s not going to happen the way it is.”
District 1 Orange County Commissioner S. Scott Boyd said a grant for traffic relief in the area of this intersection has been under examination, with infrastructure projects falling under the $300 million INVEST plan Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs unveiled in July. The frequent gridlock residents described could be helped by adding extended off ramps to shoot Interstate 4 traffic trying to go north or south on Turkey Lake Road directly into such lanes, as opposed to onto Sand Lake Road, where they currently are forced to pile up at its intersection with Turkey Lake Road, he said.
Renzo Nastasi, Orange County transportation planning manager, said there would be a new interchange at John Young Parkway and Sand Lake Road, as well as an FDOT expansion of Sand Lake Road to six lanes from that area to the Interstate 4 and Turkey Lake Road location. Traffic at that already F-rated Sand Lake and Turkey Lake roads intersection would worsen during this painful widening project, scheduled to start July 1 and take two years, he said.
But afterward, traffic would flow much better, with six lanes for Sand Lake Road from John Young Parkway to Turkey Lake Road — about 3 miles. Proposals have included a 10-foot sidewalk along the west side of Turkey Lake Road and 7-foot bicycle lanes on both the north and south sides of Sand Lake Road between Turkey Lake Road and International Drive. Plans for increased undertakings are available at the county website, although some are big and will not come for five or six years, Nastasi said.
As another example of attempts to alleviate traffic, Boyd said he had been seeking ways to get crosswalks on Sand Lake Road off the ground, so that instead of one person trying to cross and gridlocking the intersection for hours as residents attested to, pedestrians could walk over the intersection without affecting traffic. He said county staff had looked at changing cycles after school hours, similar to ideas around Sunset Park Elementary at Winter Garden-Vineland and Overstreet roads near Windermere, where some have wanted increased gridlock in certain areas to reduce speeds.
But no improvements west, north or south from that intersection of Turkey Lake and Sand Lake roads were scheduled yet, Boyd said. A study involving this area and stretching up Apopka-Vineland Road is underway, he said. Expanding from Interstate 4 to South Apopka-Vineland Road is an option county leaders have been considering, he said.
“This stuff takes a while to happen,” Boyd said. “I wish I could fund $45 million into a new interchange — would love to do that.”
That stuff includes a study to evaluate an interim Interstate 4 interchange at Daryl Carter Parkway near attractions, which the Board of County Commissioners approved Nov. 17, Boyd said. FDOT has agreed to initiate an analysis to assess the viability of constructing an interim interchange, proposing that the analysis be included in the ongoing Interstate 4 Systems Access Modification Report, he said. This interim flyover could be complete within seven years, he said.
If constructed, the flyover would serve as a temporary interchange until the I-4 Beyond the Ultimate project is fully constructed, which could be 15 years away and cost $70 million, Boyd said. The interim interchange would include two ramps that tie into the existing Daryl Carter Parkway overpass and access Turkey Lake Road/Palm Parkway and Daryl Carter Parkway from Interstate 4. The I-4 Beyond the Ultimate interchange is more complex with toll lanes, full access and constructed transit corridor, he said.
Nastasi said plans for a Sand Lake Road-Interstate 4 interchange exist but agreed the next phase of Interstate 4 improvements is about 15 years away.
COULD IT GET ANY WORSE?
Some locals believe road improvements take too long and are reactive — not proactive — solutions to immense development in the region, the biggest source of traffic congestion. Nastasi has reminded residents state law forbids denial of a zoned project based on transportation, which adds to the cumbersomeness of the issue in Pasquinelli’s view.
“You can improve all these roads to death,” Pasquinelli said. “The amount of development that’s occurring (in this area) is ridiculous in how landlocked Dr. Phillips is and a sense of community that we’re losing. … And then you’re saying let’s wait 10 or 15 years (for other road improvements)? At what point in time do our opinions become valued? All we want is low-impact businesses that serve the community, which we are underserved in, because we can’t get out of the community.”
One proposed development that has been central in this debate is the Rialto II project, a complement of 325 multifamily units to the Rialto residential development it abuts — at the northwest corner of that very Sand Lake and Turkey Lake roads intersection. After the Board of County Commissioners voted 4-3 on July 28 to transmit this project, adoption progress stalled.
Pasquinelli said Rialto II would not fit present commercial zoning of the parcel, and with other nearby expansions in the works, traffic of hundreds of residents in one location from Rialto II would be an issue, he said.
“There is nothing (any) developer can do to alleviate the amount of traffic that 600 cars a day going in and out … are going to create at that intersection,” Yorinks said of the Rialto II proposal. “None of the lights (at that intersection) are properly synchronized; they have never been.”
In Orange County Planning Division’s Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Transmittal Staff Report, staff calculations showed the proposed residential use would generate 196 new p.m. peak-hour trips — a net decrease of 1,838 p.m. peak-hour trips from the currently approved commercial use. This follows a line of thinking that something must be developed on the 6.5 developable acres of this parcel, so the best plan is to minimize it.
“If it stays commercial, it’s 20 times worse than if you go through the multifamily,” VHB Inc. developer Jim Hall said. “Then if you extrapolate it further … the earliest we would ever anticipate ground being broken on this is August of 2016. No one will live there until probably the middle of 2018, and by then, FDOT is doing a new project to improve Sand Lake Road starting in 2016 that could be completed.”
But Pasquinelli and other residents view this high-density housing as adding outside cars by drawing more residents, as opposed to a low-impact commercial entity they believe would pull from cars already on the roads. Almost any development, though, would exacerbate locals’ deep frustration with an inability to drive almost anywhere because of traffic congestion in the area, especially Restaurant Row.
Pasquinelli still wonders when — if ever — Dr. Phillips could become a self-contained community for everyday shopping and where residents can go to avoid bad traffic, especially if a mentality of developing every possible acre prevails.
“If you live in Winter Garden or you live in Ocoee, they have easy access to a holistic type of lifestyle,” he said. “All these things have to be done. It really becomes a conundrum.”