Manatee County official: 44th Avenue East road project to cost $112M

skennedy@bradenton.comMay 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- The 44th Avenue East road project will cost about $112 million, according to an official estimate presented Tuesday to Manatee County commissioners.

The estimate includes engineering studies, permitting, land acquisition and construction, all mostly financed by the county.

The project is designed to link Cortez Road on the west side of the Braden River with Lakewood Ranch on the east side, providing an east-west thoroughfare, according to Sia Mollanazar, county deputy director of engineering services.

Mollanazar's report included the history of the road project, which began in 1987 and still may be eight to 12 years from completion, he said.

A roomful of red-shirted residents attended to protest the project. Their homes are along the corridor where the mostly four-lane road is slated for construction.

"Most of us perceive this as a road leading to nowhere," said Loretto Sadkin, who lives at Peridia Golf and Country Club along the road's proposed path.

The county has no formal plans for a bridge across the Braden River, which means the project would not fulfill its primary purpose of carrying east-west traffic, other speakers noted.

It also would adversely affect the neighborhoods around it, they said.

"We feel the plan developed 20 years ago failed to take into account residential growth in the area of the 44th Avenue East," Sadkin said.

She predicted a decline in property values; lower quality of life due to noise, dirt and fumes; and environmental damage to wetland areas lush with otters, bald eagles, ducks and fish.

She advocated a halt to construction beyond U.S. 301 until all permits and plans are in place to build the remainder of the roadway.

Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer vowed the road would be speedily built despite the history of delays that have plagued it over the past three decades.

County commissioners seemed amenable to fixes to help residents, such as a ban of truck traffic until the road is completed, but declined to halt the project.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore voiced misgivings about the project's ultimate feasibility, since officials need a permit to build a bridge over an environmentally sensitive section of the river to complete the road.

"How will we know the crossing will be permitted? Why aren't we getting assurances?" she asked. "I would think to plan, we should at least know we could go across the river. There's no point in it, after spending all this money, if we don't get a permit." Said Commissioner Betsy Benac: "We've spent a ton of money on this project already."

The commission will discuss the matter further in a workshop session, and deal with the bridge issue as part of its review of county capital projects.

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

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