MANATEE -- The Florida Department of Transportation is planning to widen 6.8 miles of Interstate 75 from north of University Parkway to south of State Road 64, officials announced Monday.
But the project is still in planning stages, and no funds have been allocated yet for construction, so it could be years before work begins.
Plans also call for reconstruction of the I-75 interchange at State Road 70 in Manatee County, one of eight interchanges FDOT is re-designing for future improvements in Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to an FDOT newsletter.
The widening project calls for the addition of two "auxiliary lanes," one on each side of the current highway, according to Kevin Ingle, FDOT's major reconstruction design engineer.
Such lanes connect the entrance ramp from one interchange to the exit ramp of another, and are designed to carry local traffic, Ingle said.
The current highway has six lanes, three running in each direction.
Design consultant Atkins North America began work in February 2012, and is expected to finish work in spring 2016, according to a presentation by Amy Setchell, FDOT's senior project manager, during a meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Plans call for rebuilding bridges over State Road 70 and widening bridges along I-75 at Foley Creek and at the Braden River.
"FDOT also will widen about 1.15 miles of S.R. 70 from east of Tara Boulevard to west of 87th Street to accommodate the interchange improvements," it said.
The State Road 70 interchange will be rebuilt from an existing partial cloverleaf design to a modified diamond interchange design, with a single loop in the northwest quadrant.
While the design portion of the project is fully funded at $8.1 million, no money for construction has yet been allocated, and thus no date has been set for it to begin, Setchell said.
Asked about potential traffic backups during a world rowing championship in Sarasota in 2017, Ingle said chances of a conflict were slim, since construction probably would not start until well beyond 2017.
Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac said she appreciated transportation officials' forward-looking thinking.
"I appreciate FDOT looking ahead -- there have been problems with the intersection -- it's a good thing," said Benac, who sits on the regional transportation planning agency's board. "We don't know when construction will happen."
In other action Monday, FDOT plans to suspend for now completion of a study focusing on whether a road connecting Port Manatee with I-75 should be built, said Billy Hattaway, FDOT's District One secretary.
There's been no activity for two years, "so our plan was to suspend the study," he said.
Bradenton City Councilman Patrick Roff objected to slowing the project.
"My thinking on this is that, to slow this process down is shortsighted," said Roff, a member of the MPO board.
He noted that growth is ramping up in both northern Manatee and southern Hillsborough counties, and it would be smarter to acquire the right-of-way for the road now, rather than waiting until the land is more expensive and the potential road corridor is filled with subdivisions.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.