Manatee officials push University Parkway interchange expansion

skennedy@bradenton.comJuly 22, 2013 Updated 5 hours ago

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Construction is underway at the site of The Mall at University Town Center, a new Benderson development at University Parkway and Interstate 75 in Sarasota. The mall will be home to more than 100 stores and restaurants.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Officials Monday sought a shorter timeline for the widening and reconstruction of the University Parkway interchange at Interstate 75, as they wait to hear whether the region will win the right to host the World Rowing Championship in 2017.

The project would span 3.5 miles north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway, officials said. "This is big-time stuff," Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie told the board at a meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Sarasota-Manatee does not want the world to come visit and get caught in traffic jams, he said. He urged Florida Department of Transportation officials to provide regular updates to get the project moving.

Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta concurred.

"The last thing we need is to have it all torn up in 2016-17," Barbetta said.

FDOT officials said they would provide reports.

State officials have invested $10 million in a public-private partnership that made a formal bid to hold the 2017 rowing championship at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park, Barbetta said. The park and a new Benderson mall under construction are near the busy University Parkway interchange, which is already heavily congested.

"It needs to be fast-tracked somehow," said Barbetta, who just returned from Switzerland as part of a team of local officials seeking permission to stage the rowing championship.

Construction of the Mall at University Town Center began last fall with its opening date expected in 2014. The $315 million development in partnership with Taubman Centers Inc. involves a two-level, enclosed mall featuring an 80,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, a 180,000-square-foot Dillard's and a 160,000-square-foot Macy's.

The shopping center will also include more than 100 specialty stores and restaurants.

Last spring, engineers recommended a "diverging diamond" structure for the interchange, but no money was available for its construction.

"We're going to do the ultimate interchange for University Parkway," FDOT project engineer Kevin Ingle told the MPO at the time.

In other action Monday, MPO Executive Director Mike Howe said FDOT and Federal Highway Administration officials want to hold a public workshop to discuss how to improve the U.S. 41/U.S. 301 corridor from Bradenton across the Manatee River to Palmetto.

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

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