ORLANDO, Fla. — After hours of public comment, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided to move forward with negotiations for a proposed toll road project through a protected conservation land, Split Oak Forest.

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, Orange County Commissioners had hoped FWC would follow the county's decision to say they no longer support the plan to build the road.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission decided Tuesday to move forward with negotiations for the potential toll road through Split Oak Forest

  • Originally, Orange County leaders were on board with the project proposal, but have recently reversed their decision, saying they no longer support the project

  • Osceola County leaders are still on board at the last check. According to The Orlando Sentinel, leaders say the project would cost $100 million less than a toll road going around the forest

While negotiations will move forward, the future of the project isn’t final, but a group called “The Friends of Split Oak” is not thrilled with how the meeting played out.

“Over 90 percent of the speakers today said we want you to vote to oppose this to take the negotiation off the table,” said Hazel M. with Friend of Split Oak. “And the commission chose not to.”

Last year, the Florida Communities Trust’s Governing Board voted in favor of providing funding and to push forward the Central Florida Expressway Authority’s proposed project.

In 2020, Orange County voters approved a charter amendment protecting the Split Oak Forest's status as a public conservation land. But Orange County commissioners continued supporting the roadway until Nov. 28, 2023, changing course and supporting the Orange County voters' decision. 

The proposed toll road project would use 9 miles of road to connect Osceola County Parkway to State Road 417. The project would affect 160 acres out of nearly 1,700 acres of land.

According to our partners at The Orlando Sentinel, the Osceola County government remains committed to the proposed route, which could cost about $100 million less than a route around the forest.

Several Osceola residents as well as commissioner Brandon Arrington, who is also vice chair of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, spoke in favor of the project during Tuesday’s meeting.

Arrington says many of his residents have an hour commute into Orange County as his community continues to grow.

“With Florida being such a pro-growth state it’s a tough balance trying to deal with our natural habitat and still make room and opportunity for that influx of new people,” he said.

Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson hopes the Central Florida Expressway will revisit other options they have.

“I refuse to believe that the minds that we have in this area that we can’t come up with something better than short-cutting through a protected conservation space,” she said. “I understand people’s frustrations... but I don’t think we can or should ever sacrifice public park land for those transit and transportation options.”

FWC says there is no date as to when a final decision will be announced.