MANATEE -- County officials are preparing a new report on the 44th Avenue Extension, a massive road project that neighbors call "the road to nowhere," because it stops at the Braden River and there are no plans for a bridge.
The report will outline how much has been spent so far, how much right-of-way has been acquired, and a financing plan to complete the project's proposed course over the river and over Interstate 75, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker told the commission this week.
"One thing I would like to get out there, it does not end at 45th (Street East)," said Ron Schulhofer, county public works director, on Wednesday. "We do intend to complete it, and go all the way to Lakewood Ranch. This is a road from the beach to Lakewood Ranch."
So far, the project's cost hovers at about $53.8 million, and that's without a bridge, related widening projects, or the expense of another leg on the eastern side of the river that would bisect an environmentally sensitive area, according to county estimates provided to the Herald last month.
The project has been part of the county's comprehensive plan for more than 20 years, and will fulfill a critical need, connecting Cortez Road on the west to Lakewood Ranch on the east, transportation planners have told Manatee County commissioners.
Still, over two decades, an environmental study has never been done, Schulhofer has said.
The new report is under way at the same time that
officials have scheduled an informational meeting about the project's second phase at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
The report will not be ready in time for the meeting, which will not involve a presentation, just pictorials of how U.S. 301 will be affected by the 44th Avenue project, Schulhofer said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, some of those who will be affected have begun to lobby for changes that might spare them from the worst of the construction and perhaps limit traffic in their quiet neighborhoods once the road is built.
"Why in this world the county, who proposes to not have funding for other, more sensible projects, would entertain this huge expenditure for a road that goes nowhere is beyond me," wrote Pam H. Wallace, a resident of Peridia Golf & Country Club, in an email message to County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, in whose district construction will take place.
"As my representative on the Manatee County Commission, I ask you to do everything in your power to help the residents of Peridia by convincing the other commissioners that terminating the 44th Avenue Extension at U.S. 301 is in the best interest of the Peridia residents and all of the residents along 45th Street East," Wallace wrote.
Baugh told the commission she has received 75 emails, and that neighborhoods in two commission districts were working together to halt the project at U.S. 301.
"I've had conversations with them to let them know this has already been voted on, and it's done, we need to talk about noise abatement, or whatever, but they're not interested in that, they want it stopped," she said.
"So, having this conversation today is just to let you know you probably haven't seen the last of the group working to see this stopped.
"I'm trying to do what I can," she added.
Construction on the first phase, a three-lane roadway, is slated to start as early as this summer from the intersection of U.S. Highway 41 and 44th Avenue East to 19th Street Court East, Schulhofer said.
"I guess all of a sudden Peridia woke up," said Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, in whose district the project also will be built.
Phase two calls for a new, four-lane roadway with median from 19th Street Court East to 30th Street East.
Construction on phase two is estimated to begin in the summer of 2014, Schulhofer said.
Phase three calls for a new, four-lane roadway between 30th Street East and 45th Street East, with construction estimated to start during the summer of 2014, Schulhofer said.
A related project calls for widening 45th Street East from two to four lanes, but a date for the start of construction has not yet been set, he said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.