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Florida transportation secretary tells Manatee audience: You can't build yourself out of traffic congestion

MANATEE -- With the Cortez Bridge as a backdrop, Florida Department of Transportation secretary Jim Boxold spoke Thursday about two major transportation projects intended to relieve traffic congestion on opposite ends of Manatee County.

Cortez Bridge improvements and the diverging diamond interchange at Interstate 75 and University Parkway are two major FDOT projects.

"The bottom line is, particularly with the challenges we have during season, there are a lot of issues that we have to sort through," Boxold said at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Seafood Shack. "We are not going to necessarily be able to build ourselves out of this mess so

improving traffic signals and timing and all of those things are an important part of the solution."

FDOT began last year repairing Cortez Bridge, which was built in 1956, to extend its life 10 years, Boxold said.

"It is an important structure carrying not only residents but the seasonal traffic," he said.

Boxold said his department is working with the "local community to explore ways that we can build that bridge in a way that sort of reinforces what is going on here in the local community. We are going to take the time to work through that project and make sure that we get it right."

Construction on the diverging diamond interchange is expected to start in August. The $82 million project will be completed in time for the 2017 World Rowing Championships at nearby Nathan Benderson Park, Boxold said, which was greeted with applause from elected officials and others in attendance.

"The most exciting thing about University Parkway isn't that we are bringing a new type of interchange to the state, and it isn't that we are going to complete this prior to the deadline," Boxold said. "It's that it all came together. It really is an example of the type of project we want to pursue across the state."

Violeta Huesman of Keiser University in Lakewood Ranch, asked FDOT to keep them in mind when construction begins.

"There are a lot of small businesses on the east side of the interstate that are very concerned about the traffic," she said.

Boxold said of the record $10 billion FDOT budget: "It's never enough."

"The challenge we have is to make the best use of the dollars we have," he said.

FDOT is unlike a lot of other state road departments since 25 percent of its budget comes from the federal government, Boxold said.

"The sort of funding dysfunction that has gone on in D.C. the last couple years, while it is of serious concern to the department, it is an issue that at 25 percent we can manage," he said. "Because the Legislature and governor have decided to diversify the revenue going into our trust fund, Florida finds itself in a position unlike a lot of other states."

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at caronson@bradenton.com. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.

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