An article in the Wednesday, Dec. 31 Highlands Today caught my attention and rang an alarm that if Highlands County Commissioners don't do something, they would find themselves repeating a portion of an unpleasant history in the future.
The article stated that the FDOT has slated $1.25 million for Phase III of the Sebring Parkway. Fortunately, the article also stated that Highlands County has suspended the six mile bypass from its own capital program. This was verified numerous times by Michael Wright, the county administrator.
Those future constructions of the Sebring Parkway will be suspended until other road projects, and repair and maintenance are caught up. That means it is not permanently suspended but may be revived at some future date, so we have time for a few suggestions and corrections.
Looking back at the Phase II portion of the Parkway, one can conclude that it was beset by numerous problems, most of which could have been alleviated or mitigated.
There were neighborhood objections, parents fearing for their children's access to three schools all in the path of the Parkway; yet the Parkway construction marched on.
There were businesses uprooted without adequate notification or compensation; yet the Parkway marched on. Finally, to cap it all off, there was the start of construction before all the right of ways were acquired. The Parkway had no choice but to march on at a price set by owners of the trespassed property.
The Sebring Parkway was probably conceived decades ago to relieve the anticipated congestions on U.S. 27.
At that time, Highlands Avenue, which pours into U.S. 27, was probably "outside of town," so that having the Parkway rejoin U.S. 27 at that point was reasonable to make it a true by-pass.
However, with the population and business center continually moving south, Highlands Avenue is no longer "out of town" and traffic pouring onto U.S. 27 at that point will only cause congestions there.
In the decades since the Sebring Parkway was conceived and its routes planned, the county demographics and traffic pattern have probably changed. What was reasonable then may no longer be.
So, I am suggesting that the county commissioners vote to establish a board, commission or committee to study the next phase of the Sebring Parkway (it's hard to believe that even little Lake Denton has a committee of its own and the Sebring Parkway doesn't) before committing to its construction.
The body should be charged to conduct public hearings/workshops, solicit community input, conduct traffic surveys and other pertinent functions, and then report its finding to the BCC.
The Parkway as a by-pass or as an alternate route is essential, as anyone traveling U.S. 27 will attest how implementing it will require careful planning and revisiting the original charter.