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ORLANDO-The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority plans to go ahead alone on a $100 million road-widening job on State Road 46A, a crucial link to the half-completed beltway that now ends in Apopka, FL, 17 miles northwest of Downtown Orlando.

In doing so, the transportation agency is ignoring pleas from neighboring Lake County environmentalists fearing a wave of new commercial development in the Wekiva River Protection Area that overlaps into Lake, Orange and Seminole counties. State law bars commercial development at this location which must remain rural.

Bowing to protests from landowners and residents, Lake County commissioners told the authority last week it wasn’t interested in going further with the road-building plan.

But the half-finished, $3.3 million study also includes plans to ease traffic gridlock on State Road 50 in Clermont, FL at the southern end of Lake County.

The commissioners missed that page, pro-beltway supporters point out. The plan to decrease congestion involves a link to the existing Expressway which is State Road 429.

“They’re back to square one on this one,” a Clermont resident and longtime landowner tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity. “It’s a typical Catch-22 situation: The residents want to halt new commercial real estate development at the same time they are looking for a solution to mounting traffic problems on State Road 50.”

The widening of State Road 46A would complete the loop with a newly planned beltway portion that would head northeast towards Lake County from Apopka in Orange County, a distance of about 20 miles.

Environmentalists defeated a similar plan in 1994. They point to a 1999 state transportation study that concluded the beltway link to State Road 46A wasn’t practical or needed.

Elected Lake officials are monitoring the authority’s new position carefully and hope they will be updated as new plans for the road-widening are made.

They can’t do anything about new road work on the Orange County or Seminole County side of State Road 46A, but they have political and legal clout when the work begins to enter Lake.

Developers, meanwhile, are also watching the scenario play out.

“New roads into virgin commercial territory always present niche opportunities,” Dean Fritchen, senior associate, Arvida Real Estate Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com.

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