Mall Things Considered

The Mall at University Town Center traffic's mixed signals

The Mall at University Town Center traffic's mixed signals

Traffic at The Mall at University Town Center has remained steady since the mall opened last October, mall officials say, but it didn't meet the expectations of all store managers. Actual vehicle traffic, according to numbers from the state, hasn't increased a lot, either.

The Florida Department of Transportation made only four 2015 traffic counts for the University Parkway exits from northbound and southbound I-75 available. At most, the northbound ramp traffic flow increased by about 2,000 cars and the single count from the southbound ramp shows a 738-car increase from last year's average of 15,000.

Even without statistics to prove a substantial traffic increase in the University Parkway and I-75 area since the mall opened, a first-of-its-kind, $74.5 million diverging diamond interchange is under construction to "reduce delay times and conflict points, resulting in increased traffic capacity and a reduction in vehicular accidents at the interchange," FDOT spokesman Robin Stublen told the Herald in August.

Though the Mall at UTC could be partially responsible for the diverging diamond project, the influx of new Lakewood Ranch residents and University Parkway businesses seems a more likely motivating factor.

The 2015 Lakewood Ranch Tour of Homes kicks off on Oct. 16 and though only 2 percent of the community's 10,000 homes are for sale, hundreds of others are under construction. Nearly 400 Lakewood Ranch homes have sold as of Sept. 30. In the 2010 Census, the Lakewood Ranch zip code shows nearly 20,000 residents compared to 15,000 residents reported in the 2000 Census.

Single-family homes aren't the only properties on the rise in Lakewood Ranch, either. Earlier this year, Homes by Towne spent almost $6 million to acquire more than 46 acres from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the master developer of Lakewood Ranch. Homes by Towne plans to build 360 apartments on the property.

Benderson Development Co., the developer responsible for the Mall at UTC, continues to break ground on new commercial buildings and shopping centers along University Parkway. Over the last 10 years, Benderson built or revamped the Shoppes at University Town Center, the Square at University Town Center and the Market at University Town Center.

Benderson hopes the Mall at UTC will soon be a neighbor to an entertainment district anchored by an upscale movie theater. The addition of amenities and attractions to University Parkway could bring the necessitating traffic to the diverging diamond interchange. Only time and more traffic statistics will tell.