By Rachel Christian
Osceola County is preparing to launch phase one of a multi-million dollar construction project to widen Neptune Road.
Traffic woes are nothing new in Osceola County. Rapid growth has added thousands of new residents – and vehicles – to streets already overburdened by congestion.
County officials say the latest roadwork project – a widening of Neptune Road from Partin Settlement Road to U.S. Highway 192 – is a proactive step to accommodate projected growth.
The work won’t wrap up until at least 2023, but Project Manager Josh DeVries said it should be complete just in time for some other key projects.
“We have a few mixed-use developments coming into that area,” DeVries said. “This is also going to serve as the road to NeoCity.”
Communities like Tohoqua and Kindred are expected to bring thousands of new residents to Osceola County over the next decade, and the tax payer-funded NeoCity initiative has been touted as a potential lure for upper-income technical professionals and their families.
DeVries said there is also a “significant” number of county approved projects held up in the permitting process, also set to begin construction in upcoming years.
But none of those people can get to their new homes and office spaces without a road.
According to Florida Department of Transportation crash statistics, accidents along the effected area of Neptune Road have steadily increased over the years, from 42 cases in 2014 to 108 in 2017.
The overall number of vehicles traveling along Neptune also increased about 18 percent from 2010 to 2017.
The 3.9 miles of construction will complete an earlier widening that began in 2004, which broadened Neptune from downtown Kissimmee to Partin Settlement Road.
DeVries said extending the work to U.S. 192 wasn’t a priority at the time.
“That area wasn’t as populated and was still pretty rural,” he said. “We’re trying to project ahead now before traffic gets worse.”
The county has already invested $1.5 million in what’s known as a Planned Design and Environmental (PD&E) study, the first step of an estimated $57.5 million project. County commissioners appropriated money for the PD&E in last year’s budget, and hired design consulting firm KimleyHorn and Associates Inc. to get work underway.
The PD&E stage includes a myriad of planning and legal protocol, including environmental impact studies and public hearings.
The county is preparing to apply for a $15 million federal grant next month that DeVries and a Kinley Horn consultant hope will offset costs once the PD&E study is complete.
The county is also working with MetroPlan Orlando, an organization that helps funnel state and federal grant dollars to the local level.
Preliminary plans for Neptune Road call for bike lanes and wide sidewalks along the route.
The PD&E also allocates funds for a autonomous car feasibility study.
As DeVries explains it, the study will allow the county to explore any “cutting edge” transit options, such as self-driving vehicles and explore advanced technology options.
“This is serving as the road to NeoCity, so we want to be as cutting edge and forward thinking as possible,” DeVries said.
It will still be a while before residents and visitors spot road crews and familiar neon orange traffic cones dotting Neptune Road.
After the PD&E study, the county will enter the design-build stage, with the design phase taking up to another yet to complete, DeVries said.