by Marty Proctor
TJ Fish, City of Groveland Director of Transportation and Public Works spoke with the South Lake Tablet recently about the status of upcoming transit and road projects that affect Groveland and the surrounding South Lake County areas.
State Road 50 (SR 50) Realignment Project
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has determined that a new four-lane truck route is needed in order for the City of Groveland to redevelop Broad Street and Orange Street as walkable, bikeable downtown streets. FDOT has completed the design phase for the SR 50 realignment project. They have commenced the right of way acquisition phase. As of today, they’ve only been able to program about 25% of the money needed for right of way acquisition. The immediate City of Groveland goal is to continue to work with the FDOT to secure the rest of the funding. The City is working on a variety of creative funding sources and methods. Funding enables the next key step: getting the project shovel ready. This means the project right of way is fully secured. With the right of way settled the realignment will be ready to move into the construction phase. Since the design is already completed, the exact right of way needed is known, right down to the square foot. The FDOT and City are progressing through the purchase of right of way working with both small and large holdings to get the most efficient return in terms of time and available money.
The City is also progressing with these projects at the Lake Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) level. The MPO is the official regional agency that is in charge of planning for and getting funding for any transportation project. So if a City project is not in the MPO plan, then you don’t have a project just an idea. Several recent projects have been in process but needing a push to get moving. The MPO recently gave final adoption to their 2045 long-range transportation plan. A project cannot be in the MPO’s plan unless a funding source agreed to by FDOT is identified for the project. State Road 50 is now in that long-range MPO plan as being funded from a much larger pot of money than the funding source identified in the MPO’s previous plan. SR 50 from Interstate 75 in Hernando County east to US 27 in Clermont has been added to the State’s Strategic Intermodal System, thus raising the priority of the project and increasing the opportunity for full funding of the project.
State Road 19 and the MPO
Mr. Fish shared, “when I was hired by Mr. Hein (Groveland City Manager) back in 2018, he tasked me with getting things moving and doing something about State Road 19. Since SR 19 was not on the MPO plan, officially the City had nothing.” As of December 9, the MPO added SR 19 to the updated plan with a funding source confirmed. The MPO plan is only updated every 5 years and looks out to 2045. It was vital to get on the plan now, otherwise, Groveland would lose another 5 years.
Other local projects include widening US 27 to 6 lanes, widening the turnpike to 8 lanes and reopening turnpike exit 285 (SR 19/US 27) to traffic in both directions. New businesses like Kroger/Ocado and Amazon are actively building in the Christopher C. Ford Commerce Park and increased local home building make it vital to get moving on SR 19. These projects will certainly add further traffic pressure to SR 19.
Now that SR 19 is on the MPO plan, the City can request funding to move forward with the study phase creating a cost-effective and forward-looking plan. When that phase is complete, the project can move to the design phase and then to purchase the right of way and finally to the construction phase.
US 27 and the FDOT
US 27 has been added to the MPO plan from the northern turnpike access ramps back south to SR 19 as well. This facility, like SR 50, is part of the State’s Strategic Intermodal System, which is a robustly funded program.
This was a surprise as Groveland and that section of US 27 had been forgotten by FDOT. Today US 27 is 6 laned starting at SR60 in south Polk county, continuing north through Polk, across I-4, all the way through south Lake to Minneola City Hall at CR 561. The Minneola-to-
Groveland segment of US 27 is the last gap in a continuous six-lane facility north to Florida’s Turnpike. “At a December meeting with the FDOT, they were asking us about Groveland’s traffic and comprehensive plan and what kind of impact Groveland will have on US 27.” Mr. Fish stated. “Groveland can show FDOT the growth plan and traffic data. We’re doing everything we’re supposed to. We have asked our MPO to fund a study so that we can look at what we need to do on US 27. So that’s all we can do as a city. The next step is for the DOT to initiate that study.” FDOT agreed a plan was needed to complete US 27 from Minneola to Groveland at 6 lanes wide. So now FDOT will initiate planning for both the Groveland and Minneola sections. FL Coast to Coast Trail
The City of Groveland has a visionary trail network and it includes cooperation with DOT. The South Lake Trail is the first huge project and part of the Central Florida Coast to Coast Trail. The DOT is investing $15 million in the Coast to Coast trail just within the city of Groveland. With that kind of external investment, the City will be leveraging the trail’s presence.
The project in Groveland has been broken into three pieces. The first section starts at Silver Eagle Road near South Lake High School running west past Tractor Supply and the new Groveland Public Safety Complex (PSC) building to Second Street. The DOT will begin buying right of way for that section this year. The second section will run from the Second Street to Villa City Road and it will be constructed as the SR 50 Realignment Project is built. The third Groveland section runs from Villa City Road west through Mascotte to the Van Fleet Trailhead near SR 50 in Mabel. There are trailheads, parking, picnic, day use and other access features planned along the trail route throughout the city.
Fixed-route transit service began in Groveland five years ago. Since that time, ridership has grown and new bus stops and bus shelters have been installed along the route, Route 50 West. Scheduling has buses running east and west by each stop an hour apart. Route 50 West continues through Groveland to Mascotte, where buses turn around to head back through Groveland to Clermont. The route connects in Clermont to Route 50 East, which connects to a LYNX route in Winter Garden. The service is funded by the Federal Transit Administration, which provides funds directly to Lake County to run the system. More information including scheduling can be found at RideLakeXpress.com
Picture credit: Ashley Wright, City of Groveland