Contractors are working to complete a network of seven miles of four-lane roadways knitting Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s 2,000-acre Waterside community with the rest of Manatee-Sarasota.
Drivers should be able to drive on those new roads — extensions of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, Deer Drive and Lorraine Road — by this summer, about the same time that the first houses in Waterside began going vertical, Rex Jensen, SMR’s CEO, told members of the East Manatee Republican Club meeting in Peridia on Thursday.
Construction on a missing link in that new network, a two-mile extension of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Fruitville Road, could begin this summer and take about 18 months to complete, Jensen said, adding that he expects right-of-way issues should be resolved in about five months.
Bradenton contractor Woodruff and Sons, which is now working on a 2.3-mile extension of Lorraine Road, also has the contract for building the last two miles of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
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SMR has always built its roads before rooftops were raised in its villages, Jensen said.
Even so, Jensen said that he knows that building more roads is not the total answer for the area’s growing traffic problem.
“It’s not a panacea,” he said.
Lakewood Ranch, with a population of 25,000 and 10,000 occupied homes, also provides about 12,000 jobs.
But many of those workers cannot afford to live in Lakewood Ranch and contribute to the traffic overload.
That’s one of the reasons SMR is seeking to provide more affordable housing.
“We are trying to bring affordable housing back,” Jensen said, adding that the first house sold in Lakewood Ranch had a price tag of $89,000.
Jensen said he is willing to work with local government to bring mass transit to East Manatee and suggested trolleys might have a place on some of Lakewood Ranch’s new roads.
“We are endeavoring to provide transportation other than road traffic,” he said.
Clint Miller, vice president of the East Manatee Republican Club, said he originally opposed building the Fort Hamer Bridge but changed his mind after he saw the demand for the bridge in the Parrish area.
Miller wondered whether the bridge, which is scheduled to be completed this summer, might add to Lakewood Ranch’s traffic woes.
Jensen said he did not believe that would be the case, due to the 35 mph speed limit on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
Most drivers heading south are likely to continue to choose the faster lanes on Interstate 75, rather than pass through Lakewood Ranch, he said.