Manatee, Sarasota commissions formally OK University/I-75 interchange

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 26, 2014 

MANATEE -- Both Manatee and Sarasota county commissions jointly and unanimously approved resolutions supporting construction of a "diverging diamond"-style interchange at Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

The resolutions' passage on Tuesday fulfills conditions laid out earlier this month by Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, who pledged he would try to raise about $60 million for accelerated construction of a new interchange if both county governments formally committed to the design.

"I think this resolution is about as good as we can hope for in Manatee County; again, there's no guarantees," said Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

The discussion in Manatee turned to whether the project could be done in time to accommodate tens of thousands of people coming in 2017 for the World Rowing Championship at nearby Nathan Benderson Park.

"Can it be done by 2017?" asked Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "I can tell you if there's a way that it can be done, it will be done."

Sarasota Commission Chairman Charles D. Hines said there will be traffic tie-ups whenever the work is done, "but to wait and continue to wait is not the right answer."

"We can tell the public there will be some pain," Hines said. "But it's better to have it done this century."

A small delegation of Lakewood Ranch residents attended the commission meeting at the Manatee County Administrative Center.

"I came simply to find out what you're willing to do," said Lakewood Ranch resident David Smith. "I think we have a great opportunity to have the mall and the rowing center; traffic is a problem out there for all of us."

The joint resolutions stated the commissions supported FDOT's plan for funding and construction of a diverging diamond interchange.

Prasad had also asked commissioners, along with local developers, to make a formal commitment to fortify the road network around the interchange, which the resolutions also addressed. "It's another step forward, one pivotal step we're taking forward," said Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, speaking after the Manatee meeting.

Asked how much money his company might spend on related road improvements in the University Parkway corridor, Jensen said he's still negotiating legal details, and that his firm would be not be coughing up money until they were resolved.

"I don't care about 2017," he added, referring to the rowing championship.

Such an event seems secondary, considering that 20,000 or 40,000 residents daily are already dealing with severe congestion, he said.

A diverging diamond interchange is touted as a less expensive way to improve traffic flow and to reduce congestion. At such an interchange, traffic crosses over to the left (opposite) side of the road, safely guided by traffic signals at each crossover.

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

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