Manatee commissioners make University Parkway traffic fixes a priority

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 4, 2013 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Concerned that the already-gridlocked area around University Parkway and Interstate 75 will just become worse, the Manatee County Commission on Tuesday declared it a top priority for future transportation spending.

But the Florida Department of Transportation's draft five-year transportation work plan, which the commission approved 7-0 Tuesday, has no money listed for design or construction to improve the I-75/University Parkway interchange. It does include $660,000 to add a 1/2-mile interchange lane next year.

"We're talking about our future work program, and we must get solutions to our problems in the work plan," Commissioner Betsy Benac said.

The new Mall at University Town Center is under construction there, along with work on Nathan Benderson Park, the site of the 2017 World Rowing Championship. Nearby Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport also is a draw for motorists.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she hears constant complaints already from motorists stuck in traffic.

"The residents are getting more and more enraged by the traffic already there, it's just going to get worse," Baugh told the board.

Saying feeder roads in the area also need attention, commissioners urged an areawide, regional approach that would include Sarasota County and help from the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

A motion to declare the corridor around University Parkway and I-75 as one of Manatee County's top transportation priorities passed 7-0.

The board also directed

its staff to come up with a comprehensive solution to address a variety of difficulties there.

Asked if the Sarasota County Commission also considers the University Parkway area a top transportation priority, Sarasota Commissioner Nora Patterson said, "I think it needs to be, but I'm not totally sure."

Sarasota officials need to talk with their Manatee counterparts, and see what they have in mind, Patterson said.

"We have a very good relationship with the Manatee County Commission, so I'm sure we'll come to some kind of mutual plan," Patterson added.

One possibility might be to build an east-west overpass that would connect Lakewood Ranch to Cattlemen Road, south of the University Parkway interchange, she said.

"It's an issue of planning a good, viable alternative and providing funding dollars from the state. That is the critical aspect of making this solution," said Mike Howe, executive director for the MPO, the area's regional transportation planning agency.

The FDOT draft five-year plan still must win approval of the MPO, which is slated to discuss it Dec. 16. It also would require funding from the Florida Legislature next spring before it becomes final, he said.

The Florida Department of Transportation workplan approved Tuesday also called for $3.7 million in lighting and sidewalk improvements along U.S. 41 in Bradenton.

The plan would finance fixes along the accident-prone roadway from 53rd Avenue West to 63rd Avenue West, and would allocate $783,938 worth of traffic signal improvements at three busy intersections: Bayshore Gardens Parkway, 60th Avenue West and 53rd Avenue West.

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

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