HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS – More than 100 residents packed the cafetorium of Lake Hills School last night to gain information on the futures of the Little Lake Harris Bridge, State Road 19, County Road 48 and CR 561 in central Lake County. Emphasized by transportation officials was the Little Lake Harris Bridge.
“The bridge is 57 years old, 3,300 feet long and estimated to cost $80 million in today’s dollars to replace,” explained T.J. Fish, executive director of the Lake~Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the regional transportation planning agency for the two-county area. “What road improvements are made in this area of central Lake County will be largely dictated by the plans put in place for the bridge.”
Fish explained that there are currently no dollars in place to widen any of the three road corridors. “All three corridors are in the MPO’s 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan as roadways needing additional lanes in the next 10 to 20 years,” he explained. “However, we do not foresee having the funds to do all three.”
Replacement of the bridge was on the minds of many residents. Some asked if whether the bridge would be replaced at all. “If we were to begin today with a major study of the bridge and how we would replace it, it could be 15 to 20 years or more before the bridge would actually be constructed due to funding shortages,” answered Fish. He continued, “If we do not move this project forward now, we could be looking at a time when we have no bridge.”
Others in attendance were concerned with the thought of widening roadways through their community. Residents from Howey-in-the-Hills repeatedly emphasized that they do not want SR 19 widened through their town. Residents from Yalaha, Tavares and Astatula were also concerned about the effects on roadway projects on their communities. However, many acknowledged the interrelationship of the corridors and the importance of the bridge.
The meeting was the third in a series of three public sessions to gain input on transportation plans. Two previous sessions were held in Astatula and Minneola.
At the meetings, the public was provided an overview of the corridors being studied and instructed on how to use the FDOT Efficient Transportation Decision Making Planning (ETDM) website to learn more about the roadways and to log comments into the project diary.
The initiative, known as an ETDM Screening, is a prelude to any major studies that would lead to an actual construction project. The planning screen is intended to detect any fatal flaws and reflect community values that would potentially eliminate the feasibility of road improvements. Numerous agencies work with FDOT and the MPO to comment on potential impacts of roadway projects.
“It is important for the public to know that we are not planning to build anything at this time,” explained MPO executive director T.J. Fish. “We are asking for public input now because we need a plan for which corridors should be improved as traffic conditions require.”
The link to the project website was enabled Oct. 16. The public is encouraged to go to www.LakeSumterMPO.com and click on the Transportation Studies/EDTM tab on the left hand column for more information.