MANATEE -- A financing plan for a new interchange at Interstate 75 and University Parkway is already underway, a top Florida transportation official said Monday.
Construction costs could total $60 million.
"The secretary is putting together a plan to accomplish it," Billy Hattaway of the Florida Department of Transportation told the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Hattaway said he could provide no details, since FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad is out of the country.
"We're all dying to know when the funding will be available," said MPO Chairman Larry Bustle, who also chairs the Manatee County Commission.
The state intends to finish construction on the interchange before the 2017 World Rowing Championship takes place at nearby Nathan Benderson Park, Hattaway said.
But he had other irons in the fire Monday as well: He scheduled a meeting with a consultant whose specialty is sports events and parking management.
"Parking management will be a bigger issue than access," Hattaway predicted about the rowing event, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of athletes, coaches and spectators to Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park.
Prasad's surprise March 6 pledge to find money for accelerated construction of
a new "diverging diamond" interchange, if local officials and developers would fortify the road network around it, stimulated conversations about a host of possible traffic fixes, said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
A diverging diamond interchange is touted as a less expensive way to improve traffic flow for and reduce congestion. At a diverging diamond interchange, traffic briefly crosses over to the left (opposite) side of the roadway, safely guided by traffic signals at each crossover.
"These conversations have very much been stimulated by FDOT's commitment to get these things done," said Patterson. "There is just a variety of conversations going on about improvements, where on our side we could find dollars to try to support it."
Bustle wanted to know the fate of a FDOT traffic study the MPO requested in December to pinpoint ways to solve congestion along the University Parkway/I-75 corridor.
Without it, road improvements around the interchange would be haphazard and "sort of incidental," he said.
Hattaway said the agency focus now is on how to construct the new interchange.
Manatee Commissioner Betsy Benac said the MPO study request brought everyone to the table.
"The study is still out there, but at this point, I'm willing to wait" to hear how FDOT's interchange plans develop, she said. "It looks a little piecemeal because there are so many entities involved. I'm waiting to see if it gets pulled together through a different process."
The Manatee and Sarasota county commissions will consider resolutions Tuesday supporting the diverging diamond design and pledging collateral road improvements.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.