Manatee, Sarasota officials already pursuing FDOT's $60 million traffic solution

Herald Staff WritersMarch 8, 2014 

An illustration of a diverging diamond interchange. GRAPHIC PROVIDED

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Just one day after the state's top transportation official suggested the state might broker a $60 million solution to address congestion along University Parkway at Interstate 75, county officials were already at work on resolutions to make it happen.

"Sarasota and Manatee are working together," said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who was among a group that met Thursday in Tallahassee with Ananth Prasad, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Prasad pledged to corral $60 million for accelerated construction of a new interchange there, but he specified that local officials and developers would have to commit their resources to fortify the road network

around it.

The resolutions would state that county officials agree they want FDOT to build a "diverging diamond"-style interchange, said Baugh.

"It will show the two counties are standing together," she said.

Baugh hopes the resolutions include commitments for road projects by Manatee and Sarasota counties, as well as those private developers intend to do.

Work on the resolutions is expected to take about 30 days or so, said Baugh.

"The two administrators rode home together from the meeting, spent good time together, hashing out similar language," said Sarasota County Commission Chair Charles Hines, who represented Sarasota County on Thursday in Tallahassee.

The meeting provided a chance to get everybody together and to agree about the interchange design, since at one point, some officials had expressed doubts.

"The secretary (Prasad) said, 'I know this place needs help, I just don't want to push something people don't want,'" Hines said Friday.

Manatee officials are elated over the meeting's outcome.

"We fully know that, once we give him these resolutions, the funds are there to get this done," Baugh said Friday.

The two counties have partnered with Benderson Development Co. and a nonprofit organization to stage the 2017 World Rowing Championship at Nathan Benderson Park, 2500 N. Honore Ave., Sarasota.

That's one reason officials are concerned about worsening gridlock in the area.

A related road project that Manatee County officials might oversee would be improvements to Lakewood Ranch's Market Street.

"We're looking to see what needs to be done there," Baugh said.

Other road projects would be led by Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc.

During Thursday's meeting with Prasad, Rex Jensen, SMR's president and CEO, discussed extending Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road south to Fruitville Road, and building an overpass from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road.

"These commitments and improvements will offer additional alternatives to move traffic through additional means, and relieve pressure on the I-75/University Parkway interchange," said Todd J. Pokrywa, SMR's vice president for strategic affairs, in an email Friday to the Herald.

A new bridge crossing the Braden River at Tara Boulevard may also be in the cards, Hines said.

"It's controversial, and even though it's been planned for a long time, the reality is we need two or three north-south corridors, on both sides of the interstate," he said.

Benderson Development, which plans to open its new Mall at University Town Center in October, would add signage at the mall as well as on Interstate 75, according to Todd Mathes, the company's director of development.

Benderson has already spent in excess of $20 million improving roads and infrastructure in the vicinity of the mall and at Benderson Park, he said in a phone interview Friday.

He was confident the state would come through with money for a new interchange.

"For them to say they can find the funding is great news," said Mathes. "If we don't take it, someone else will."

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

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