44th Avenue East extension in Manatee County nearly halfway complete

Work continues on 44th Avenue East extension

Ron Schulhofer, the county's public works director, talks about 44th Avenue East extension, which when complete will be another east-west connector.
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Ron Schulhofer, the county's public works director, talks about 44th Avenue East extension, which when complete will be another east-west connector.

MANATEE -- Construction of a major east-west thoroughfare in Manatee County is nearing its halfway mark.

Work on 44th Avenue East, which will connect Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, is about 45 percent complete, according to Manatee County officials.

"It makes the grid work," Ron Schulhofer, the county's public works director, said Monday. "44th is very important to the community. ... You need another east-west road. It is also great for evacuations during hurricanes."

While the first phase of the east-west connector from U.S. 41 to 19th Street Court East is completed and open to traffic, work continues on the remaining sections of the roadway extension, which will ultimately extend Cortez Road in Bradenton to Lorraine Road in Lakewood Ranch.

Crews were working Monday on either side of U.S. 301, clearing land and completing other activities such as excavating ponds in the stretch from 19th Street Court East to 30th Street East. The roadway, which runs parallel to a Florida Power & Light powerline, is presently paved at certain segments, including the section immediately to the east of 30th Street East, which was paved about three months ago.

Construction is underway on the roadway segments from 19th Street Court East to 45th Street East while the segments from 45th Street East to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard are in the design phase. Since two bridges are required -- one over the Braden River and one over Interstate 75 -- several permits must be acquired before work on those sections can begin.

"I'm hoping for seven years," Schulhofer said of when he expects the nearly $130 million project to be completed.

When complete, the majority of 44th Avenue East will be a four-lane divided roadway with landscaped medians, bike lanes and sidewalks. The segment from U.S. 41 to 15th Street East is a three-lane divided roadway with sidewalks and streetlights, according to project materials.

The two existing east-west thoroughfares -- State Road 64 and State Road 70 -- are not only congested but are at buildout, said Sia Mollanazar, the county's deputy director of public works.

"What you see is what you got already," he said. "They demonstrate how badly we need an east-west route."

The 44th Avenue East extension has been on the books since the 1989 county Comprehensive Plan, but the public really saw work beginning around 2006, Schulhofer said.

"I think what we are doing now is going to help the community for decades," Schulhofer said.

Earlier this month, the county commission authorized the issuance of up to $36 million in transportation debt. The debt, which is expected to be repaid through impact fees, is the final necessary funding piece for 44th Avenue East, Schulhofer said. Other funding sources include gas taxes, road impact fees, transportation bonds and $1.5 million from Florida Department of Transportation.

"The money is in place and we will move a lot faster," he said. "There is no sense paying interest until you need it."

Improvements are also planned for 15th Street East and 45th Street East, which are expected to enhance the north-south roadway network.

"We are actually starting to get a grid system," Schulhofer said.

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

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