Osceola County to merge with Central Florida Expressway Authority
By Tiffanie Reynolds
After two years of negotiations, the Osceola County Expressway Authority is on board with a unified Central Florida Expressway Authority.
The Central Florida Expressway Authority, a concept spearheaded by Florida Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, will bring the separate expressway authorities of Orange, Osceola, Lake and Seminole County together under one authority over the region. Until now, Osceola County has been hesitant about merging with a region-wide group, due to the possibility of the proposed authority slowing down its 2040 master plan. But, new language submitted to the Florida Senate bill this week allows the Osceola Expressway Authority to wait until all projects in their 2040 master plan are paid for and in construction before completely merging with the central authority.
“When you deal with Central Florida, it is really a megalopolis, or growing to become a megalopolis, which means you have multiple cities in multiple counties all strongly economically connected. And, so, it’s important to eventually have a system that keeps track of all that together,” said Osceola Expressway Authority Chairman Atlee Mercer.
Gardiner and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sponsors of the Central Florida Expressway Authority senate bill 230, have been pushing the idea for the past six years. Forming one expressway authority, they say, will help each individual county in Central Florida coordinate with large expressway projects. Currently, interlocal agreements are needed between counties before major expressways can be built over county lines.
The proposed Central Florida Expressway Authority will consist of 11 members. Each of the members will be the chairman or commissioner from the Osceola, Seminole and Lake County Commission board, governor-appointed two residents of Orange County, one resident of Osceola, Lake and Seminole and another resident from one of those three counties, the mayor of Orange County and the mayor of Orlando, with the executive director of Florida Turnpike Enterprise as a nonvoting advisor. As an authority, it will have the power to construct, improve, maintain and operate the expressway system within the four counties, including rapid mass transit and trams.
“These three counties (Osceola, Seminole and Lake) are a very significant part of the network of those expressway roads. Obviously, they need to have a seat at the table. So, we don’t just need interlocal agreements between the Orange-Orlando expressway authority and the surrounding counties, we need to have the ability to think collegiately and act collegiately,” Simmons said.
To go into effect, the proposed changes to the bill need to be approved by the state senate, and the bill itself still needs to be approved by the state house.