Manatee set to back I-75, University Parkway interchange construction

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 22, 2014 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday is slated to consider a resolution supporting construction of a "diverging diamond"-style interchange at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

Should the resolution pass, it would fulfill conditions laid out earlier this month by Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, who pledged he would try to raise approximately $60 million for accelerated construction of a new interchange if Manatee and Sarasota county commissioners would formally commit to the design.

"My thought was the secretary was very clear on what he wanted to hear from the county, so that's what we've been concentrating on," said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represented the commission at a March 6 meeting with Prasad in Tallahassee.

The FDOT secretary has already reviewed the resolution, and it passed muster, Baugh said.

The resolution says the commission supports the FDOT request for funding and construction of a diverging diamond interchange at I-75 and University Parkway.

The joint resolution is also slated for review by the Sarasota County Commission on Tuesday during a workshop session, according to Sarasota County spokesman Curt Preisser.

Prasad had also asked the two county commissions and local developers to make a formal commitment to fortify the road network around the interchange, which the resolution also addresses.

It says the commission supports "associated capacity improvements on University Parkway between North Cattlemen Road/Cooper Creek Boulevard and Market Street."

A delegation from Benderson Development Co., which partnered with Manatee and Sarasota counties and a nonprofit organization to develop a world-class aquatic center at nearby Nathan Benderson Park, last week met with legislators to re

quest an $11 million appropriation, said state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton.

Steube is a member of the Florida House's Appropriations Committee, which oversees budget matters.

Asked what such an appropriation might be for, Steube replied, "I have no idea; I don't know what it's for," but said he would fully investigate.

The partnership last year won the right to stage the 2017 World Rowing Championship at the park, and transportation officials hope that road improvements can be mostly completed before thousands of athletes, coaches and onlookers arrive for the event.

"It's great Sarasota and Manatee acted so quickly; we were definitely pleased to participate, and that everyone is on the same page," said Todd Mathes, Benderson's director of development.

Benderson Park, at 2500 Honore Ave., sits amid an already-congested area near the University Parkway-I-75 interchange.

How congested is it?

The annual average daily traffic count along University Parkway, west of I-75, is 57,500 vehicles per day; east of I-75, it's 36,689 vehicles per day, according to Kevin S. Ingle, FDOT's District One major reconstruction design engineer.

A traffic count station just south of University Parkway on I-75 registered 111,000 vehicles a day, according to the latest data, he said Friday.

Listed in the resolution about the interchange were other road projects to be locally funded and built:

• Extension of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from its current terminus south of University Parkway to Fruitville Road, subject to some conditions.

• Construction of Lorraine Road between University Parkway and Fruitville Road, subject to some conditions.

• Construction of a bridge over I-75 on the southern boundaries of Nathan Benderson Park and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch.

Ingle has described the "diverging diamond" design as "the ultimate interchange for University Parkway."

The widening and reconstruction project would take place from north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway, spanning 3.5 miles, he said.

The intersection needs work to improve safety, provide better hurricane evacuation, and increase regional connectivity, he said.

The interchange design would produce the greatest cost savings and reduce delays; could enhance vehicular, pedestrian and bicyclist safety; reduce the amount and severity of accidents, and add capacity.

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

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