'Ultimate interchange' planned for University Parkway

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 26, 2013 

MANATEE -- Engineers on Monday recommended a "diverging diamond"-style structure for the busy interchange at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

The re-do of the interchange would accommodate increased traffic from a new mall now under construction, and from an aquatic center at nearby Nathan Benderson Park that is seeking to host international rowing events.

"We're going to do the ultimate interchange for University Parkway," Kevin S. Ingle, the Florida Department of Transportation's project engineer, told the board of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The widening and reconstruction project would take place from north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway, spanning 3.5 miles, officials said.

There is no money set aside for construction, Ingle told the board.

Asked about that problem after the meeting, FDOT District One Secretary Billy Hattaway replied, "Everything is a function of timing," and added the caveat: "Things

can change."

The intersection needs work to improve safety, provide better hurricane evacuation, and increase regional connectivity, said Matthew G. Wey, a consultant employed as Florida transportation planning manager for HDR Engineering, Inc., of Tampa.

The "diverging diamond" intersection would produce the greatest cost savings and reduce delays; it also could enhance vehicular, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, he said.

The recommended design also would be expected to reduce the amount and severity of accidents, and add capacity, said his colleague, Donald R. Holcomb, HDR's vice president.

By next year, the University Avenue interchange -- frequently choked with cars -- would not have an "acceptable" level of service, Holcomb said.

"The whole idea is so we don't back up traffic on the interstate," explained Ingle.

However, that brought up the question about improvements to nearby intersections located on local roads.

Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson observed that "you don't want them backed up," either, since it's a linked system.

She asked if the state would be willing to help Manatee and Sarasota counties to improve local intersections, such as Cattleman Road, on the west side of I-75.

Hattaway replied that FDOT could work with local governments to identify how to fund all of it, including the local parts.

A public hearing will be scheduled next year for comments on design plans, officials said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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