MANATEE -- The secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation said Tuesday he would try to find money for a new $60 million interchange at University Parkway and Interstate 75 in his department's $9 billion budget after a legislative conference committee declined to allot funds he had hoped would help pay for the project.
"We're going to continue to work to try to get this project off the ground," said FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad. "I think the budget's just about getting locked down, but miracles do happen."
Local lawmakers said the conference committee of House and Senate members rejected a House plan to redirect between $100 million and $115 million for more transportation projects. Prasad said he had hoped to use part of that money to accelerate construction on a diverging diamond-style interchange to ease traffic congestion at University Parkway and Interstate 75.
"I would just say that if we had gotten the $100 million, it would have been an easy answer," said Prasad. "I'm still cautiously optimistic that we can do this project."
The interchange where Manatee and Sarasota counties meet is near a new mall and a new rowing center expected to draw thousands of motorists and aggravate an already hectic traffic situation.
"I think this is a sad day," said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "This was a project of extreme importance to the people of East Manatee."
She said she wished Tallahassee politicians representing the Manatee-Saraota area "could get this done."
Without the additional money, state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said: "It would be much more diffi
cult to achieve that funding."
The state remains committed to the project, one Manatee official said.
"It's important to note that the University/I-75 project is not dependent on this year's state budget," said Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach manager. "FDOT has reaffirmed to Manatee and Sarasota counties that this is a priority project for the region. To that end, we will continue to work closely with Sarasota government and FDOT to ensure that the diverging diamond remains a priority in both counties."
Prasad said he will try his best to try to find funding in the current allocation, said state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, but he added: "It's going to be harder now, because there's no new additional money in the budget specifically for the project."
Last month, Prasad told local officials and developers he would accelerate construction of the interchange if local officials and developers pledged to fortify the congested road network around it, which they did.
"The goal would be to get it into construction, or at least have a game plan in place for construction, and the goal would be to get it done before the rowing event," Prasad said, referring to the World Rowing Championship at Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park in 2017.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites