Planners considering comprehensive study of I-75, University Parkway area

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 28, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- State transportation planning experts are considering a comprehensive study of the traffic-jammed area at Interstate 75 and University Parkway, where one accident Monday knocked holes into the overpass and another traffic fatality closed it again later Monday night.

"They said today the staff was still evaluating it," Manatee County Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said.

Bustle chaired a meeting Monday of the regional transportation agency, the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board.

"They said they would be making a decision probably by the next MPO meeting in March," Bustle said.

Study area boundaries would range from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard west to Honore Avenue, and from 17th Street north to Linger Lodge Road.

The MPO Monday also discussed a new north-south alternative to Interstate 75

and U.S. 41, officials said. The new route would be between North Port and State Road 72, and would require cutting through the environmentally sensitive Carlton Preserve.

In December, MPO members told the Florida Department of Transportation that rebuilding the I-75/University Park intersection alone would not cure severe gridlock, since adjacent streets such as Cattlemen Road are already congested and will be burdened with additional traffic in coming months.

Next fall, a new Mall at University Town Center will open, and many athletic events are scheduled in the area before Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park hosts the World Rowing Championship in 2017.

The rowing championship is expected to attract tens of thousands of athletes, coaches and fans.

Bustle wants a "comprehensive look" at some affordable projects that might ease traffic woes before 2017.

Private money might aid a push to try to build one or two overpasses over the interstate before 2017, Jack Rynerson told the Manatee-Sarasota Airport Authority.

He noted there's no state money for a rebuilt interchange at I-75 and University Parkway.

But developers might help with other improvements to counter congestion.

Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch owns all the rights-of-way from its property down to Lorraine Road/Dog Kennel Road extension, Rynerson said.

The company would pay Sarasota County $7.5 million to upgrade that road from Fruitville Road to Palmer Ranch Parkway, Rynerson said. He said the company would also have to upgrade its Development of Regional Impact permit, which governs large-scale developments.

Another possibility would be to extend Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south, near the church by I-75 and Fruitville Road, and to build an overpass over I-75 connecting to 17th Street.

The problem with that plan: It would go through some neighborhoods.

SMR also wants to extend Pope Road with an overpass north of State Road 70.

Chris Jackson, a Lakewood Ranch resident, said another north-south route is needed.

"SMR owns two roads that could be used as alternate routes for emergencies, but will not let the public use them," he said.

"Between what's happened today ... and with the new mall being built, I wonder why they can't find a way to open up at least one of those roads to provide some relief," he said.

-- Charles Schelle and Sabrina Rocco contributed to this story.

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

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