Fruitland Park commissioners expressed dismay last week after learning that a request for state funding to complete the widening of County Road 446A didn’t come through.
And to make matters worse, they also found out that the completion date for widening the portion of the roadway from U.S. Hwy 27/441 to near Valley Road is now November instead of July, as originally planned.
District 33 Rep. Brett Hage, who represents northern Lake County, Sumter County and southern Marion County, introduced H2067 on March 5 seeking $7.5 million to complete the Phase 3 widening of CR 466A from roughly Valley Road to Drake Drive at the entrance to The Villages portion of the city. It then gained the approval of the Transportation and Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee on March 12 and was sent to the Appropriations Committee, where it sat until being “indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration” on May 3.
The junior representative’s request then became a small part of Senate Bill 2500, where the funding was sliced to $450,000 for the .8-mile bottleneck portion of the roadway that creates nightmares and is hampering commercial growth.
“We are disappointed with the amount of money,” Fruitland Park Mayor Chris Cheshire said. “It’s not even close enough to finish the project.”
Commissioner John Mobilian, who represents a portion of The Villages, didn’t pull any punches when expressing his frustrations with the state Legislature over the loss of funding for widening CR 466A.
“I’m very, very angry with them,” he said. “I’m curious as to where that $7.5 million went, because the state was already going to give it to us. Where did they send it? This is just unacceptable on the part of Tallahassee.”
Mobilian said the big problem now is that the longer it takes to get CR 466A widened, the more it will cost, as blacktop and labor costs will increase, contracts will have to be rebid and new blueprints will have to be drawn up.
“Next year it will probably be $8 million,” he said. “What is the matter with these guys? How can you run a business like this? I don’t get it.”
Mobilian added that the delay will surely hamper the city’s growth.
“We are trying to build up Fruitland Park and get businesses to come in here,” he said. “If you don’t have an easy way to get back and forth, i.e. 466A, they’re going to think twice before they come here.”
Cheshire agreed, calling CR 466A “an integral part” of the future of Fruitland Park.
“That road is going to be a big commercial corridor,” he said. “That’s going to help our tax roll. It’s going to help our citizens.”
Cheshire said the commission will continue to look at the situation and make it a priority to work with Lake County government officials and the state to secure the needed funding to finish the project.
“Making that commercial is going to take pressure off the taxes of Fruitland Park,” he said. “Without that road there we’re not going to get the commercial growth that we need.”
Hage, who was heavily supported by The Villages Developer in his successful bid to replace the late Don Hahnfeldt as the District 33 representative, didn’t return a request for comment. The president of T&D Distribution and the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce just finished his first legislative session, where he was involved with 21 bills that were introduced on the House floor.