LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For Anita and Chuck Palmer of Bradenton, the proposed high-tech interchange improvement project, planned for the busy Interstate 75 and University Parkway corridor between Manatee and Sarasota counties, can't happen fast enough.
Anita Palmer, who said she is looking forward to shopping at the new Mall at University Town Center, said she has no doubt she will not be stuck in traffic driving home on Interstate 75 after a day of visiting the upscale shops and stores that will open Oct. 16 -- once the interchange improvements are finished.
After viewing an animated video and large diagrams of what the diverging diamond-shaped corridor will look like, Anita Palmer said she is convinced the traffic there will flow smoothly after the project.
"I don't feel this will be confusing at all. It seems easy to follow the flow of traffic in the direction you're headed. The entrances and exits are the same and there aren't too many lights," she said while praising state representatives and county officials for putting the project on the fast track.
But the diverging diamond intersection improvement won't be immediately available. Construction will start next summer and the earliest completion date is 2017, officials have said.
The Palmers joined nearly 200 people, including concerned residents and area business owners, who gathered late Thursday afternoon for a public Florida Department of Transporation informational meeting at the Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch on the interchange improvement project.
Two large rooms were set up for guests to walk around, view aerial diagrams and an animated video on a large screen, and question project engineers, designers and consultants who have been planning since 2009 for the first diverging diamond interchange in Florida.
Fast gaining popularity around the country as a way to move large amounts of highway traffic in growing, congested areas, the diverging diamond is designed to ease traffic congestion expected with the addition of the nearby mall, the Nathan Benderson park rowing facilty and planned residential and commercial construction already approved for Lakewood Ranch South.
Although not yet officially funded by the state transportation department, the $60 million project will widen about 3.5 miles of I-75 from north of Fruitville Road to north of University Parkway to an eight-lane highway with three through lanes and one auxiliary lane in each direction.
The project will also widen I-75 bridges over Erie Creek and replace I-75 bridges over University Parkway, as well as widen about 1 mile of University Parkway from the Cattlemen Road/Cooper Creek Boulevard intersection to the Market Street/Lake Osprey Drive intersection.
The reorganized interchange will be much safer, according to project engineer Kevin Ingle,
"Everyone I've talked to who goes through these types of interchanges says you follow the traffic, follow the signs and the pavement markings and you won't even know you went through it," Ingle said. "As long as it's signed and marked appropriately, you will flow right through and that's our plan."
The meeting offered good news for those worried about traffic bottlenecks.
"For peak hours when traffic is the heaviest, you won't see a significant amount of delay east and west of the interchange. This is very good for handling turning traffic and you have a lot of that right here. It will get rid of the bottlenecks," said Smith Siromaskul, a consultant from Portland, Ore.
Stephen Smith of Bradenton, who lives about 10 minutes from the interchange, said he isn't convinced he won't be stuck in traffic at the new mall.
"I know how awful it is to be stuck in a parking lot trying to exit a mall, and to have that right in my backyard worries me," he said.
But, the project is good news for Gina Hyon of Fort Myers, who owns a highway sign company and does business with the state as a preferred minority-owned company.
"This is a very, very big opportunity for us. It's a fantastic plan for small businesses. They'll be lots of opportunity for signage.
Next week, the Florida Department of Transportation will post an animated rendition of the I-75/University Parkway interchange improvement project at i75manatee.com.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.