UNIVERSITY PARK -- Work on the Interstate 75/University Parkway Diverging Diamond Interchange project begins Monday -- and most are hoping it brings a "huge improvement" to the area.
"I think when completed it will be better for everyone around here," said Octavio Ortiz, general manager of The Mall at University Town Center. "It's not only going to be good for businesses, but residents who live around here as well. It will be good for everybody."
Construction on the first diverging diamond interchange in Florida is expected to be completed in about two years -- in time for the Sept. 24-Oct. 1, 2017, World Rowing Championship at Nathan Benderson Park.
Construction costs are estimated at $74.5 million, with a $5 million bonus if Prince Contracting LLC completes the project by August 2017.
Prince Contracting operated out of Palmetto for 25 years before it moved to Tampa.
"This is our home turf," said Shelly Meadows of Prince Contracting. "Many of our employees live in Manatee County, including two of our vice presidents, so we live here, work here, shop at UTC, and we experience firsthand not only the traffic but also the road construction, so we understand firsthand the frustrations that go along with both. This is an important project for both Manatee and Sarasota counties."
A diverging diamond interchange "offers a proven solution for improving overall traffic operations and safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians," a flier describing the project states. Traffic crosses to the left (opposite) side of the road guided by signals at each crossover as it enters or leaves the interstate and/or passes through the interchange on University Parkway.
"The innovative design of the DDI reduces delay times and conflict points, resulting in increased traffic capacity and a reduction in vehicular accidents at the interchange," Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Robin Stublen said.
The first diverging diamond interchange in Florida will also be the largest in the United States when completed, Meadows said.
"It is special to be part of an historic, first-of-its-kind project in Florida," she said. "We are happy that the project was awarded to a Florida contractor. ... We're confident in the design and we are proud to be a part of this."
Construction will begin throughout the project limits north of the Fruitville Road interchange to just north of the University Parkway interchange, including work on University Parkway, according to Stublen.
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, FDOT will hold a groundbreaking ceremony along Market Street adjacent to University Parkway in Lakewood Ranch.
First week construction activities will include installation of traffic signage, erosion control measures and a staging area. Workers also will mobilize construction equipment and survey crews onsite and work on utilities, according to Stublen. Other activities include clearing debris and shrubbery within the right-of-way.
"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," FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said at a Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon in June. "It's that it all came together. It really is an example of the type of project we want to pursue across the state."
Other planned improvements include:
Adding auxiliary lanes on northbound and southbound I-75.
Constructing new bridges on I-75 over University Parkway.
Widening University Parkway and I-75 bridges over Erie Creek and Foley Creek.
Realigning on-ramps and off-ramps at I-75/University Parkway.
Adding ponds and drainage improvements.
New lighting and signals.
Constructing a noise wall on the west side of I-75.
Adding sidewalks, bike lanes and walkways.
There will be temporary lane closures and traffic shifts on I-75 and University Parkway, increased congestion at various times and temporary detour routes, according to project materials.
"When there are ramp closures during nighttime hours (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.), detour routes will include Fruitville Road and State Road 70," Stublen said. "During single-lane closures, there will be a shift in traffic, but the flow of traffic will remain open."
Ortiz said he doesn't have any concerns at this time about effects on business at The Mall at UTC. Access to businesses will be maintained at all times, according to FDOT.
"I am under the impression most work will be done at night and the off-peak hours of when we are operating," Ortiz said. "I think in the future it is going to be great when it is completed."
Violeta Huesman of Keiser University in Lakewood Ranch asked FDOT to keep them in mind when construction begins, at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce luncheon in June.
"There are a lot of small businesses on the east side of the interstate that are very concerned about the traffic," she said at the time.
When reached Friday, Huesman said she had no further comment on the project.
Throughout construction of the DDI, Ortiz said he will continue to coordinate with FDOT and Sarasota and Manatee counties like they did when the mall opened last October.
"We will constantly monitor the traffic conditions," Ortiz said. "I think as we move through the process of this project, we will continue to do the same things. It's a little bit different because this is construction."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.