UNIVERSITY PARK -- A portion of Interstate 75 will be getting a new sound barrier as part of state improvements to the University Parkway interchange.
The 22-foot-high wall will stretch along the western side of I-75 from the Fruitville Road off-ramp in Sarasota to the boat ramp parking lot at Nathan Benderson Park.
The wall stems from the results of a federally required sound study and is meant to mitigate the noise expected from expansion of the interstate, Florida Department of Transportation officials said.
The state-funded University Parkway project, expected to cost about $60 million, includes adding a "diverging diamond" intersection, the first of its kind in Florida, at the I-75/University interchange and widening about 3.5 miles of the interstate to eight lanes.
FDOT polled residents in Gateway Lakes apartments, the San Palermo town homes and isolated residences along that stretch of the interstate who would be impacted by the wall. Of 42 responses, 35 indicated they want the barrier. Residents also gave their preferences for the wall's color and texture.
"I already experience the noise -- I can't open my windows or doors," one Gateway Lakes resident wrote.
"Waste of money. We don't hear traffic," wrote one of the seven who voted no.
Sarasota County commissioners expressed their concerns Wednesday about the aesthetics of the wall, but admitted they can't do much about it.
"It's going to be like driving through a tunnel in Sarasota County" if similar walls go up at other stretches of I-75, said Commissioner Charles Hines.
The wall will be similar to ones along stretches of the Interstate 4 corridor and in Lee County, said Jim Harriott, county director of public works.
Commissioner Nora Patterson suggested asking the state to add landscaping on the western side of the wall along North Cattlemen Road. But with only about 12 feet of space between the wall and the road, "it would just be an absolute maintenance nightmare," FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said.
The board of commissioners also considered adding decorative medallions or silhouettes of rowers or wildlife at intervals along the wall. But after learning the county would have to pony up between $12,000 and $20,000 per image, they didn't push the idea Wednesday.
Ultimately, the board agreed to give FDOT its preferences for the color (light beige) and texture (ashlar stone) for the wall, which matches the resident survey.
There was no consideration of extending the wall along Benderson Park or at the new Mall at University Town Center, which opens in October, FDOT officials said.
"There are no houses at the mall. There are no houses at the lake. They don't even come into play," Stublen said,
Funding for construction isn't yet in place, but state transportation officials hope to redirect funds to the interchange project and get work started soon, Stublen said.
"The absolute best-case scenario is early spring," Stublen said. "Design work will be complete in mid- to late summer, and we'll be ready to begin, but it's all contingent on funding."
Local legislators have indicated the project is a top priority and they are confident it will be funded.
Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.