MANATEE -- It just got a whole lot easier to drive to work in Bradenton and East Manatee.
The Florida Department of Transportation opened the last of six freshly paved lanes on State Road 64 East this weekend after two years of construction. The eastbound half of the highway, which had largely been limited to two lanes between Braden River and just west of Interstate 75 was the last major piece of the $13.4 million project.
The lane opening couldn't come too soon for commuters and businesses along S.R. 64. Months of weather delays, holiday work stoppages and work beyond the scope of the original state contract stretched the timeline of the 2.5-mile road-widening well beyond a projected fall 2013 completion date.
On Monday, commuter Nathan Guernsey said he's happy his drive time will dropp. Much of his daily drive from the Sarasota area moves quickly on I-75. He said he's dreaded the last mile through the S.R. 64 construction zone. During construction, it's taken about 15 minutes.
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"It's taken us twice as long
as it used to to go to work," said Guernsey, an employee of Bradenton-based direct sales company It Works! Global off S.R. 64.
The project added two lanes to S.R. 64, a major east-west route between Bradenton and the interstate. FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen said widening S.R. 64 from four lanes to six adds needed capacity to a road that handles up to 21,500 cars a day in either direction.
It also added bike lanes for the first time, new sidewalks and traffic signals.
"This is a pretty busy stretch of road," Stublen said. "The enhancements were to improve the commute. It became difficult for travelers at times."
The roadway bottlenecked even before construction started in spring 2012. Positioned between six-lane segments connecting downtown Bradenton and East Manatee, it was a sore spot for businesses reliant on the free flow of traffic.
Jennifer Trager owns the Bradenton Flower Shop in Bennett Plaza at 53rd Street East and S.R. 64. Construction slowed flower deliveries and made access difficult for some elderly customers.
"They were a little nervous coming in here with all the traffic," she said.
Manatee Chamber of Commerce officials said the project will ultimately be good for commuting workers and businesses in the Bradenton area. Neil Spirtas, senior chamber vice president, said a good deal of residential and commerce development occurred within the project's scope in anticipation of the added lanes.
"It's an improved roadway and it will facilitate business and quality of life," Spirtas said
A few weeks of minor work remain. Stublen said road crews for contractor Best Roads Inc. have yet to finish some outside turn lanes and still need to put down one more layer of asphalt in areas outside the main driving lanes.
For Guernsey and It Works! Global co-worker Derek Brenes, the big benefits of the completed road are yet to be realized.
It Works! is moving its headquarters to Palmetto in May. Guernsey and Brenes will drive S.R. 64 to get there. No sweat, as long as traffic moves along like it is now.
"We're more concerned for our future commutes," Brenes said.
In addition to paying for road construction, the state also paid $3.5 million to buy right-of-way to widen the road. Stublen said FDOT has not projected when or if State Road 64 may need more work to accommodate future traffic.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.