Growing Pains: Polk County prepares for population to soar past 1M

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Traffic concerns weigh on officials as Polk County’s population is expected to soar past one million people in the next 25 years.

Infrastructure will need to be improved. Already, people who call the county home are feeling the difference.

“It used to be really quiet. The roads used to be quiet and now in the last 10 or 15 years, it’s really gotten louder and a lot more traffic,” said Ansley Wales, whose family has lived and worked on a few acres in Lake Alfred for generations.

The property sits on an increasingly busy County Road 557 near an even busier I-4.

County Road 557, in areas including Lake Alfred and Auburndale, is being widened to make space for more traffic.

“It’s sad for me because I like having space and the wonderful weather and having it be kind of a hidden area but I guess a lot of people want to share in that,” said Wales.

The county’s population is expected to jump from 700,000 to one million by 2045.

Last year, there were more than 3,000 new single-family home permits and nearly 1,000 apartment unit permits in the unincorporated county alone.

“Everyone is feeling it. You see it when you’re driving down the road. The northeast portion of the county is clearly growing the fastest,” said Chandra Frederick, assistant county manager in the Office of Planning & Development.

The northeast is an important part of the county’s five-year $400 million community investment plan.

Lake Wilson Road in Davenport is also due for an expansion.

At least one of the county’s four new fire rescue stations will be located in the northeast.

“It is, to put it mildly, staggering,” said Brian Rick, communications specialist for the Florida Department of Transportation. “In Polk County, it manifests in looking at new and better ways that we can improve transportation.”

Rick says there is a study underway to look at increasing the capacity on I-4 to up to ten lanes, possibly more.

The state is also looking into transportation solutions for highly traveled U.S. 27 in the northeast.

“(U.S.) 27 is important because it’s on the eastern side of Polk County and it gets involved with other counties and other areas,” said Rick. “So besides vehicular traffic, there are any number of things that might come out of this: such as we might identify a need to have buses, to have other modes of transportation.”

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