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Plant City Observer Friday, Jun. 23, 2017 1 year ago

Plant City looks to expand its east-west connectivity

An Open House was held June 15 at City Hall to get public input on potential extensions to Rice Road and Sam Allen Road.
by: Daniel Figueroa IV Staff Writer

Where Plant City is going, it’ll need roads. 

With an expected population of more than 70,000 by the year 2040 and increasing commercial traffic along County Line Road,

planners and city officials are looking to expand east-west connectivity in booming city areas.

The city held an open house June 15 to get public input on studies for two proposed connections, an extension of Sam Allen Road in the city’s northeast sector and an extension of Rice Road to the south. Both extensions would connect to County Line Road.

The studies were requested by the city, funded by the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and completed by engineering and design firm Gannett Fleming.

“People have been talking about this for years,” Planning and Zoning Department Director Mark Hudson said. “There are no east-west roads other than (U.S. Route) 92 and (State Road) 60. This will help distribute the traffic we expect to see in those areas. We’re trying to get people’s input on the alignments.”

Each of the two studies contained three alignment options for the proposed roads. During the open house, community members were encouraged to submit comments indicating their preference for roads and opinion on the projects.

Currently, Sam Allen Road ends at North Wilder Road, just west of Park Road, north of Interstate 4. Hudson said planners expect most of the residential growth in the city to take place around that area in the coming years. The proposed alignments there would connect Sam Allen Road to County Line Road.

“They’re going to need this,” Carson Futch said. “Plant City has got to grow in some direction.”

According to the Imagine 2040: Plant City Comprehensive Plan, by 2040, Plant City’s current population of more than 40,000 will nearly double. Most of that incoming population is expected to move into the area between Park Road and County Line Road, north of I-4, Hudson said.

Futch’s family owns a large portion of land the proposed roads would cut through. While he has mixed feelings on the expansion, he said he knows it’s better to be prepared and proactive than wait until there is a problem that needs solving. Ultimately, he said he supports the expansion, particularly the southernmost option.

To the south of I-4, past U.S. 92 is Rice Road. While the Sam Allen expansion would focus on residential growth, Bud Whitehead of the MPO said the Rice Road extension is geared toward freight traffic. That extension would connect Rice Road to Coronet and Roberts Ranch Road, allowing Park Road to connect to County Line Road in an area currently seeing large economic expansion on the Plant City side.

Whitehead said he made a point to speak with nearly everyone who came through the door and most supported growth. Plant City has, however, had a few residents vocally oppose growth.

After living in larger California cities for most of her life, Corlene Findley said she moved to incorporated Hillsborough County, just outside of Plant City, 36 years ago because she wanted a quiet home in the country. The growth in Plant City, she said, worries her and she thinks the roads encourage more expansion.

“It’s like putting another interstate right through what’s supposed to be country land,” she said. “Why do we keep doing this?”

Of all the people he spoke to, Whitehead said, Findley was the only one who did not support the project at all.

According to Sarah McKinley of the MPO, the MPO and Gannett Fleming will review the comments to incorporate relevant public concerns. A finalized study will then be presented to the City Commission toward the end of the year. Following commission review, a project development and environmental study will be conducted and a route for the roads finalized, a process, she said, that will take a few years to accomplish.

Since the road proposals are in the early stages of development, Hudson said funding has not yet been discussed.

Daniel Figueroa IV is a Staff Writer at the Plant City Times & Observer. He has been covering Plant City since 2017. Previously, he was the politics and veteran affairs reporter at the Ledger of Lakeland. He probably wants to ride motorcycles and trade books with...

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