LAKEWOOD RANCH -- State officials are moving "full steam ahead" on plans for a $60 million interchange needed to ease traffic congestion at University Parkway and Interstate 75, a Florida Department of Transportation official assured Tuesday.
"All people should be concerned about is this interchange will be built. This is a priority," said Robin Stublen, public information officer for the northern six counties of District 1, which includes Manatee and Sarasota counties. "We are moving full speed ahead on designs, and it will get done."
In a phone interview Tuesday with the Herald, Stublen said money can be redirected from other Department of Transportation projects as needed.
"We may not be able to pinpoint exactly when or where the money will come from, but there may be some projects that are not ready for our tentative five-year work plan," Stublen said. "The I-75 interchange project is definitely at the top of the secretary's funding list."
In the just-concluded legislative session, lawmakers rejected a House bill to redirect between $100 million and $115 million for more transportation projects. Transportation officials have said they had hoped to use part of that money to accelerate construction on the diverging diamond-style interchange at the Sarasota-Manatee border.
Confusion and disappointment about the project's status reached a peak Tuesday at an inter-district authority workshop in Lakewood Ranch. When Executive Director Eva Rey mentioned she attended a recent advisory council meeting on the I-75 interchange and the Fort Hamer Bridge, some supervisors became upset.
"The residents on this side of I-75 will be disadvantaged,"
said District 5 Supervisor David Emison.
Chairman Thomas Green questioned the logic of the state's proposed budget.
"I'm disappointed they found money for IMG, which is a for-profit company, but couldn't find time for a major issue facing our county," Green said.
But state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, said he also has been assured by FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad that funding for the interchange is at the top of his list. Steube also said there's been a lot of misinformation about the funding.
"There never was an actual bill asking the state Legislature for $60 million for the project," Steube told the Herald on Tuesday. "We wanted to redirect $100 million from the general revenue fund to the transportation fund for an immediate payment, but the Senate decided not to redirect this money. But I'm still very optimistic the interchange will happen by the end of this year."
To show confidence plans are moving forward, the Transportation Department has tentatively scheduled a workshop at the end of June at a location yet to be announced to introduce design plans for the interchange so the public can comment. About 60 percent of planning and design has been completed, officials said, and once the public has offered input, a plan will be finalized.
The interchange is considered crucial to alleviate anticipated traffic problems from the new Mall at University Town Center, which Benderson Development expects to open in October. They are also mindful of traffic concerns that could develop during the 2017 World Rowing Championships at nearby Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010.