UNIVERSITY PARK -- As new stores and restaurants open along University Parkway in 2015, roadways will mostly remain status quo in the new year -- for now.
Multiple long-term projects are on the docket to alleviate traffic yet none are expected to be completed in 2015, said Paula Wiggins, Sarasota County transportation planning manager.
A lot of the roadway improvements, including a new Interstate 75 overpass near The Mall at University Town Center and extension of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road to Fruitville Road, are in the planning stages next year, Wiggins said.
"We have to start somewhere," Wiggins said, adding most projects will be completed within the next five years. "A lot are in the planning stages. There is also the issue of funding and having the funding to be able to implement them."
Alternate routes -- the I-75 overpass and road extensions -- and traffic signal retiming in north Sarasota County are the county's two primary efforts to help relieve traffic along the increasingly busy corridor, Wiggins said. The north county signal retiming will adjust traffic lights to the new Advanced Traffic Management System.
"We are working on (signal retiming) and that will continue," Wiggins said. "That will help with the efficiency of the traffic and get the traffic moving as efficiently as possible so not everybody is coming in and out at the same time. With
the other connections, it can disperse traffic in other ways."
On the Manatee County side of University Parkway, Benderson Development has proposed building two roundabouts on Cooper Creek Boulevard to improve traffic flow.
There aren't alternate routes "built on the east side" of I-75, Wiggins said.
"When you have the alternate routes for people to use, that gives people different ways to get around in the area," she said. "By having those other roadway connections that gives people other alternatives to get around on the east side."
In December, the Sarasota County Commission approved adding the overpass proposed to be built between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and north Cattlemen Road, to its Future Thoroughfare Plan. Public workshops, going before the county planning commission and public hearings before the county commission are required prior to final approval of the overpass roadway connection. The workshops and hearings will take place in 2015.
As Lakewood Ranch continues to expand south into Sarasota County, Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, a main developer, will continue working with the county to develop the right of way and design the extension of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Fruitville Road. The two-lane extension -- one lane in each direction -- won't be completed in 2015 as the design and construction process, including bidding and the actual construction, must be finished, Wiggins said.
Also part of SMR's development is extending Lorraine Road to Fruitville Road, which is anticipated to be completed within the next five years, Wiggins added.
Manatee County Area Transit recently announced it will now have a bus route to Lakewood Ranch beginning Jan. 3.
At the University Parkway and I-75 interchange, lanes and landscaping will be added, but the additional University Parkway interchange lanes are on the Florida Department of Transportation 2017-18 year work program.
Wiggins said the added lanes at the interchange, which is a state project, will go to bid for construction next year.
Other projects expected to continue into 2015 are roundabouts at 10th Street and U.S. 41 and at 14th Street and U.S. 41. At these intersections, U.S. 41 will be widened to include bike lanes, dedicated turn lanes, a 10-foot sidewalk along the west side and a 6-foot sidewalk along the east side. The construction phase, which is funded, is scheduled for 2017.
A project development and environment study will be completed by FDOT to see whether a roundabout at the intersection of U.S. 41 and University Parkway, at the entrance of the Ringling Museum of Art, will improve traffic and congestion there. The PD&E study estimates the costs for the project and also evaluates engineering, environmental, social and historic and cultural effects of the project, according to the FDOT website.
Sarasota County Commission approved the 2015 Major Improvement Project Priorities at a meeting in November, which included the roundabout and a roundabout at the intersection of Cattlemen and Richardson roads south of Nathan Benderson Park. The latter roundabout would be completed under the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, a state-funded grant program requiring a 50 percent local match.
Also in 2015, the discussion about whether to add Nathan Benderson Park to I-75 signage will continue as traffic planners discuss which of four destinations already on the I-75 southbound signs should be removed to make way for Benderson Park signage. FDOT allows a maximum of two signs with two destinations each before an exit, and these four destinations are already full at the southbound I-75 and University Parkway location. The I-75 north signage at Fruitville Road lists only two destinations. On the I-75 southbound signs, the four destinations are: New College of Florida, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, the Sarasota Kennel Club dog track and Ringling Museum.
Claire Aronson, University Parkway/Sarasota reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.