LAKEWOOD RANCH -- More than 200 Lakewood Ranch residents packed a first-ever Town Hall meeting Wednesday called by County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.
After once again hearing concerns residents have about traffic stemming from the congested University Parkway-Interstate 75 area, Baugh, a Lakewood Ranch resident and Main Street business owner, said she will fly Thursday to the state capitol in Tallahassee to lobby for roadwork funding.
The Republican District 5 commissioner, elected in November 2012, said she is feeling the pressure to help resolve major traffic problems anticipated for the University Parkway corridor and Interstate 75 when the 880,000-square foot Mall at University Town Center opens in October.
Baugh said she was taking an early Thursday morning flight accompanied by officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., developers of Lakewood Ranch's master-planned community.
The group plans to meet with Florida Department of Transportation officials to discuss plans to alleviate congestion with an overhaul of the University Parkway/I-75 interchange, which borders Manatee and Sarasota counties.
No significant funding has been set aside to fund any construction.
"This has to be our top priority and I hope we'll be able to say we have a plan," Baugh told the Town Hall crowd. "We need a grid as well as an interchange. Sarasota County has plans to carry Lorraine Road down to Fruitvile Road but there's no money involved."
Baugh said the only way to accomplish the expensive road work is to lobby for federal money, as Manatee County officials have been.
Manatee County has no control over roads in Sarasota County's comprehensive master plan, she said. But the good news is, she said, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch signed an agreement with Sarasota County and is working hard on a solution.
"Send an e-mail to the Sarasota County commissioners. I urge you to do this and let your thoughts be known about University and I-75," Baugh said. "We're going to grow and it's not going to stop. If both counties work together we can get a great solution."
Lakewood Ranch resident Bruce Langsen, who previously lived in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, said he was impressed by North Carolina's coordinated county road system and wondered why Manatee and Sarasota counties couldn't do the same.
"I need assurances that you will come together and approve a road plan rather than just say it's them against us," Langsen said.
Tony Morton, a Country Club resident of Lakewood Ranch since 2001, said he was also frustrated by all the talk and no action.
"When that mall goes in, 75 and University will be a standstill," Morton said. "The horse is out of the barn now and it's gonna be a zoo."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.