Tanner Hall was packed with about 150 residents wanting to learn more about an interchange Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise is proposing at County Road 545/Avalon Road in Winter Garden. The city of Winter Garden requested the Florida Department of Transportation make a presentation at a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 7.
Nathan Silva, senior transportation engineer with infrastructure consulting firm RS&H, said an interchange is needed to improve travel service in West Orange County and to relieve traffic demand on West Colonial Drive and at the Oakland/Clermont interchange, he said.
The project includes a widening of the turnpike as well.
Five miles separate the Oakland/Clermont interchange and the one in Ocoee. Currently, there are 11 travel options and 11 traffic lights between the two along Colonial, and an additional interchange is being proposed to reroute traffic off Colonial between the two existing locations.
Silva said FDOT studied two other possible locations — Daniels Road and County Road 535 — but those have been ruled out because of costs, impacts to residential and community facilities, adjacent interchange spacing, and the amount of land required for the project.
Three interchange options are proposed at Avalon — and they would require varying degrees of land acquisition, Silva said. According to the maps provided by FDOT, all three options would need land to the north and south of the turnpike — in the historic Tildenville community and Tucker Ranch.
Silva said constructing the turnpike ramps would require a total of 1.6 acres.
Orange County currently has plans to widen Avalon Road from two lanes to four. According to a county study, this segment of Avalon Road generates 15,000 to 15,400 vehicles a day and is expected to generate 32,320 to 33,050 vehicles per day by 2045.
TUCKER RANCH IMPACTS
Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer addressed FDOT and the crowd and expressed disappointment in the turnpike interchange proposal.
The city has invested millions of dollars into Tucker Ranch, a tract of land of more than 200 acres south of the turnpike that is being transformed into a health and wellness park. It will be the first such park of this magnitude in the United States, according to the city. Several national organizations have signed on as partners with the city.
Widening the turnpike and adding the on and off ramps will bring traffic closer to the park, which originally housed the community’s first country club.
“That noise will destroy the quiet and serenity of Tucker Ranch,” Bollhoefer said. “That’s our biggest concern. … It’s our pride and joy for Winter Garden and West Orange County.”
Also concerning is what this proposal could do to the historic black community of Tildenville, he said.
When the turnpike originally was built in the 1960s, it split the community in half; building an interchange would widen that divide, critics said.
Ed Williams, the city’s planning consultant, said he will work to protect the historic area and protect the homes in it. He said he disagrees with FDOT’s statement that the interchange is necessary between Ocoee and Oakland because the turnpike was built as a long-distance commuter road and wasn’t meant to provide convenient access every few miles.
City Attorney Kurt Ardaman said the project would damage the entire life source at Tucker Ranch and “should go away.”
He told attendees: “Now’s the time to make your voices be heard. The more that you explain … how this impacts you … and the city and the park … the more impact you will have.”
Winter Garden City Commissioner Ron Mueller wrote on his Facebook page: “Our goals have been to slow down traffic and create alternative routes, not build more super highway ramps that lead to greater traffic congestion. This interchange will increase traffic flow, create greater noise and air pollution, and decrease the value of homes adjacent to the interchange.”
More than a dozen concerned citizens took their turn at the microphone during the meeting.
“We are appalled that this (park) and the land in Tildenville will be reduced,” said Jeanne Yazinski, president of the Bloom & Grow Garden Society. “(The turnpike project) will demolish a part of history.”
The garden club planted 1,000 bald cypress trees at Tucker Ranch in 2020, and many of the volunteers attended the meeting in support of the green space and conservation area.
Two Gotha residents shared stories of their property being flooded after a previous turnpike project.
Tracy Swanson, West Orange Healthcare District CEO, said the organization is against the proposed plan because it is investing a large sum of money in the park.
Several Tildenville residents spoke, as well, including Deloris Riggins, who has lived there since before the turnpike originally was built.
“The noise level was very profound,” she recalled. “It’s not going to benefit Tildenville or Winter Garden. It’s going to benefit the turnpike. I don’t want my community to be further destroyed.”
Another Tildenville resident said she wanted to build her dream home on Avalon on land that had been given to her mother by her employer.
“I beg of y’all not to take my land,” she said.
Deborah Rutland, who was born and raised in Tildenville and lives two houses away from the turnpike, said her backyard flooded when the turnpike was widened. She fears there will be more issues if the interchange is built.
A few Winter Garden residents who spoke were in favor of the turnpike project, including one who said it would decrease his travel time to work.
The FDOT is in the second phase of the project development process. This proposed project is part of a larger turnpike widening project that extends from south of State Road 408 to the Oakland/Clermont interchange on Colonial.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.