Public reviews proposed links from port to I-75

PALMETTO — They live in different counties, but Les Thomson and Rene Reno had a common perspective Tuesday night: Neither wants a proposed road linking Port Manatee and Interstate 75 anywhere near their homes.

“We’d rather have it go this way than along Moccasin Wallow Road,” Thomson said as he studied a map depicting five potential alignments for the road during a public information meeting. “We prefer it be away from us.”

But Thomson’s choice — along Valroy Road in southern Hillsborough County — was opposed by Reno, who lives in the Sundance community on the north side of the Manatee-Hillsborough county line.

“That would put traffic from (U.S.) 41 through our neighborhood,” she said.

Thomson and Reno were among more than 90 people who attended the meeting at the Manatee Convention Center, held to get public input for a $3.75 million state study on the connector.

Florida Department of Transportation officials are studying six potential routes for the road, evaluating each one’s potential environmental, community and other impacts. No money has been set aside for designing or building the road.

Two alignments begin at Harllee Road and go eastward along County Line Road. East of U.S. 41, one would curve northeast and link with Valroy Road while the other generally follows the county line. Both would end with a new interchange at I-75.

A third alignment starts at U.S. 41 just north of North Dock Street, bypasses Airport Manatee to the south and then generally follows the county line to I-75.

Three other alignments begin at U.S. 41 and North Dock Street, then travel south on or alongside U.S. 41 before turning east onto or alongside one of three existing roads: Buckeye Road, Moccasin Wallow Road or Interstate 275.

Officials plan two more public meetings before selecting a preferred route next year, said Tony Sherrard, an FDOT project manager. But the Federal Highway Administration has the final say — and that decision likely won’t come until 2012.

That’s too long for Joe Sammarco, who said he has suspended plans to build on land he owns in the area because of uncertainty about the road’s path.

“Regardless of what route they pick, they’re putting me and other property owners on hold,” he said.