Proposed Florida Freight Zone Gets Thumbs-Up From County Planning Organization

Plan Hillsborough
Plan Hillsborough

BARTOW, Fla. — A proposed freight logistics zone stretching from the Port of Tampa to Lake Wales won an endorsement on Aug. 18 from Polk's Transportation Planning Organization.

The plan came to the TPO to gain support in state funding priorities for transportation improvements intended to support regional movement of freight, said Tom Deardorff, TPO's executive director.

Projects in Polk listed in the presentation include new roads such as the Bartow Northern Connector and the Central Polk Parkway as well as improvements to existing roads such as State Road 60, which has been proposed for widening to four lanes from County Road 630 and the Kissimmee River, and U.S. 27, which has been proposed for an adaptive traffic signal project to improve traffic flow.

Deardorff said one key part of the proposal, which was developed by consultants hired by the Hillsborough County TPO and reviewed by Polk County and city planners, involves looking at improving freight routes.

He said the plan also will look at improving transit service to get workers to logistics centers.

A key player in the plan is the CSX logistics center in Winter Haven, which the presentation said could support 8 million square feet of warehouse space and 5,000 new jobs.

It reportedly has drawn interest from American, Mexican, Brazilian and Chinese companies, according to the presentation.

County Commissioner John Hall asked whether the emphasis will be only on state and federal highways.

It will not, Deardorff said, explaining in addition to the still unfunded second phase of the Bartow Northern Connector between U.S. 17 and State Road 60, the plan also will involve looking at possible improvements on County Line Road, which has become one of Polk's key logistics hubs since the opening of the Amazon distribution center.

County Commissioner George Lindsey asked how Polk will measure freight movement to complete the analyses called for in the resolution.

He said one way will be through a $37,000 contract approved Aug. 18 with Stantec Consulting to gather information on where freight traffic is coming from and where it's going in Polk County.

Another is to purchase GPS data from the American Trucking Research Institute to better understand current truck routes, he said.

In related action, TPO members also approved a resolution that included its comments on a proposed national highway freight network.

Polk TPO's comment was that it preferred designating the section of U.S. 27 from the Highlands County line to Interstate 4 as part of the network and rejected a proposal for a route that included a section of U.S. 98 from U.S. 27 near Frostproof through urban areas of Lakeland because that would cause more conflicts with local traffic.