Sebring Parkway Phase III
Yesterday, the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners voted to proceed with Sebring Parkway Phase III. They also voted 4-1 in favor of the original design for the intersection of the Parkway and College Drive. This was the design proposed in April of 2002 that causes us great concern, as it establishes College Drive as a direct arterial connector between the Parkway and U.S. 27. This was the design that a previous county commission set aside after working with us to find a better alternative.
Several members of the SFCC Board of Trustees, Glenn Little, and I attended the meeting and presented our case. Others from the public spoke against the design that we prefer, the one developed by the county engineer several years ago with our involvement and subsequently endorsed by the SFCC Board of Trustees in 2009. Yesterday was a long and disappointing day.
Ultimately, the difficult 4-1 decision of the county commission rested on two issues: (1) the perceived safety at the intersection of College Drive, Memorial Drive, and the Parkway; and (2) the possible additional cost associated with the alignment of the intersection preferred by our SFCC Board of Trustees.
Obviously, our interest is to protect the educational environment of the Highlands Campus and to ensure the safety of all who come to our campus. College Drive is not designed as an arterial connector to facilitate traffic flow between the proposed Parkway and U.S. 27. Most of the road is college property maintained by the county through intergovernmental agreements.
The design endorsed by our SFCC Board of Trustees three years ago offers a solution consistent with long-range transportation plans of the county, while the alignment approved by the county commission at yesterday’s meeting does not. It requires redesign and realignment in the future. At least three other arterial connectors in the long-range plan connect the Parkway to U.S. 27 and Avon Park. To align with future anticipated parkway extensions, the county will likely undo the alignment approved yesterday.
The arguments offered by the county commission presented them with choices. There are two safety issues to be weighed: the safety of students and visitors coming to the Highlands Campus versus the perceived safety at the intersections involving College Drive, Memorial Drive, and the Parkway. A majority of the commissioners considered the safety at the intersection a greater concern. They discounted the fact they were creating a condition in which every vehicle traveling from Avon Park to Sebring on the proposed Parkway will have to make a left turn at a stop light to continue to their destination. The issue of cost also provided a choice: pay now or pay later. The one commissioner who used cost to justify his vote for the 2002 original intersection chose to save now and pay significantly more later. If the decision of the county commissioners stands, upgrading College Drive could be very expensive. This argument also ignored the cost of undoing the intersection in the future when the other roads to the north are built and when the Parkway eventually becomes a four-lane road.
We will never give up on our efforts to ensure safety and to protect our educational environment at the Highlands Campus. Yesterday was a setback, but not the end of the story. We will work with the county to explore every possible way to protect our campus from the effects of excessive traffic on College Drive. We will continue to work with this and future Boards of County Commissioners to achieve our goal. There is an election this fall.