As cars whizzed past on nearby Interstate 75, the final — and most difficult — piece of the puzzle to extend Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south to Fruitville Road fell into place Thursday.
Local government and business leaders turned shovels of soil during a groundbreaking for the $16 million project, which will transform the final two miles of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard into a four-lane highway.
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Expected to be completed in 18 months, the new section will complete the north-south corridor between Parrish via the Fort Hamer Bridge through Lakewood Ranch and into Sarasota County, and provide an alternative to I-75.
The extension also will help Schroeder-Manatee Ranch develop its Waterside community on 1,425 acres. Waterside will include as many as 5,100 residences in Sarasota County.
The start of work on the extension of the road comes months after the rest of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard was completed.
The final phase was held up by right-of-way acquisition issues. Rex Jensen, chief executive officer of SMR, got involved with negotiations with property owners to break the logjam.
Preparations for the start of construction took far longer than the time that will be required for actual construction.
“I have been working on this for 28 years. This should have been done at least 20 years ago,” Jensen said prior to the start of ceremonies Thursday.
“I got involved because you look at the traffic on I-75 and know that people don’t want to drive in it. Hopefully the extension will provide drivers with an alternative,” he said.
Sarasota County commissioner Michael A. Moran said SMR is doing more than funding and constructing roads.
“You are building a legacy,” Moran said.
Kirk Boylston, president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial, said that even though the road extension has not been an easy project, Lakewood Ranch has become the second-fastest selling master-planned community in the United States.
Maryland-based real estate consulting firm RCLCO ranked Lakewood Ranch second in the nation this week with 826 new home sales halfway through 2018, an increase of 33 percent from last year.
SMR will start construction of Waterside Place this year, making it Lakewood Ranch’s second Main Street project.
Waterside Place will be a lakefront town center with shops, restaurants and residences. It is also planned as the future home of The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
Contractor for the road extension project is Woodruff and Sons.
“The improvement to the transportation network will contribute greatly to the quality of life for people in both Manatee and Sarasota counties, allowing for ease of north-south travel and an alleviation of congestion on I-75,” said Laura Cole, vice president of marketing for Lakewood Ranch.
“The road will also help to connect Sarasota with the job center that Lakewood Ranch has become,” Cole said.
For more about Waterside Place, visit http://lwrwaterside.com/waterside-place/.