By SARA KENNEDY
MANATEE -- The secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation said Tuesday he would try to find money for a new, $60 million interchange at University Parkway and Interstate 75 from within his department’s $9 billion budget.
A legislature conference committee Tuesday removed a source of money he had previously hoped might pay for the project.
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“We’re going to continue to work to try to get this project off the ground,” said FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad on Tuesday.
“I think the budget’s just about getting locked down, but miracles do happen,” said Prasad.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Tuesday that a conference committee made up of House and Senate members had removed from its budget recommendation money FDOT hoped to use to accelerate construction on the project.
The interchange where Manatee and Sarasota counties meet is near where a new mall and a new rowing center are expected to draw thousands of motorists.
Without the money, Galvano said, “It would be much more difficult to achieve that funding.”
“I think this is a sad day,” said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh on Tuesday. “This was a project of extreme importance to the people of East Manatee.”
She said she wished those in Tallahassee representing the area “could get this done.”
“It’s important to note that the University/I-75 project is not dependent on this year’s state budget,” said Nick Azzara, Manatee County’s information outreach manager. “FDOT has reaffirmed to Manatee and Sarasota counties that this is a priority project for the region. To that end, we will continue to work closely with Sarasota government and FDOT to ensure that the diverging diamond (design) remains a priority in both counties.”
Last month, Prasad said he would try to find money for the new interchange if local officials and developers pledged to fortify the congested road network around it, which they did. “The goal would be to get it into construction, or at least have a game plan in place for construction, and the goal would be to get it done before the rowing event,” Prasad said at the time, referring to the World Rowing Championship slated for nearby Nathan Benderson Park in 2017.