LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said she never planned on making a career in engineering, but since she became a county commissioner for Lakewood Ranch, that's exactly what she's been doing,
Baugh, who represents District 5 in the sprawling master-planned community of Lakewood Ranch, is also a homeowner and business owner there.
She is embroiled in issues surrounding construction in the Interstate 75 corridor to alleviate increased traffic from the new mall opening this fall and construction planned for Lakewood Ranch south of University Parkway.
Baugh fielded questions and concerns Wednesday at the second Town Hall meeting this year in Lakewood Ranch from about 50 residents about the planned $60 million diverging diamond interstate project by the Florida Department of Transportation at the I-75 and University Parkway interchange and the growing number of apartment communities lining Lakewood Ranch Boulevard,
"There's no need to beat a dead horse," Baugh said. "The bottom line is we finally have it going now so let's get it started. The sooner we do this, the sooner it will get better."
Baugh met with Ananth Prasad, Florida Department of Transportation secretary, in early March to push for accelerated construction of the new interchange that will widen about 3.5 miles of I-75 from north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway. The project also includes widening about 1 mile of University Parkway from the Cattleman Road/Cooper Creek Boulevard intersection to
the Market Street/Lake Osprey Drive intersection.
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., Lakewood Ranch developers, have pledged $7.5 million to extend Iona Road from Palmer Boulevard to Fruitville Road or build an overpass across I-75 from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road. SMR officials vowed to do this before a meeting of the Sarasota County Commission, which approved the developer's plans to build The Villages of Lakewood Ranch South, a combination residential-commercial development on 5,500 acres south of University Parkway.
"The bad news is we have to live through it all while getting these roads. The good news is we will be getting these roads," Baugh said.
She credited Manatee County with accelerating construction, which was originally slated for 2030.
Ian Bacon, vice president of the Lakewood Ranch Country Club/Edgewater Village Association, suggested Baugh tell FDOT to do all construction at night. Baugh said she would suggest it this week to state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, and state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
When questioned about possible traffic problems arising from several new apartment communities, Baugh said driving on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard would be tight.
"But we need a place for our workers to live. Not everyone can afford to buy a home in Lakewood Ranch. We want this to be a place we can live, work and play," she said.
Resident Al Pirone, who moved to Lakewood Ranch from Seattle two years ago, said the diverging diamond interchanges he's driven on were confusing and he feared snowbird residents would be confused the most without having time to grow accustomed to the new traffic flow.
Allan Shaivitz, a Riverwalk Ridge resident who lived in busy Baltimore County until moving to Lakewood Ranch in 2003, said the diverging diamond in the Beltway there worked just fine.
"It moves the traffic and there never was an accident. This is more updated and it appears to be a better design," he said confidently.
Baugh urged everyone to attend a public FDOT meeting about the construction at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, June 26, at the Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.