Local officials returned from Tallahassee Thursday with the directive to commit firmly to both a diverging-diamond-style interchange to ease traffic at Interstate 75 and University Parkway — and to improve the road network around it.
If Sarasota and Manatee Counties show such commitment by passing a formal resolution in the next month asking the Florida Department of Transportation to build the interchange, the state transportation agency vows to construct it before the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
“I want a firm commitment for all the pieces of the puzzle,” said FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad.
Specifically, FDOT will try to raise about $60 million for accelerated construction of the interchange, with the goal to get it funded within the next year or two.
Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, Lakewood Ranch’s developer, has already committed to help fund the following road improvements:
· The continuation of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a four-lane roadway from its current ending at Communications Parkway to Fruitville Road;
· The continuation of Lorraine Road as a four-lane road from University Parkway to Fruitville Road.
SMR has also pledged up to $7.5 million for a proportionate-share road project that gives Sarasota County one of two options: It can put the money toward a east-west connector overpass from the planned Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project over Interstate 75 and Cattleman Road; or it can use it to build a two-lane Iona Road between Fruitville Road and Palmer Boulevard.
“I am looking for a holistic approach, not piecemeal, for a full network of road improvements,” Prassad said.
FDOT has said in the past that it does not have any money earmarked for the diverging-diamond interchange until after 2021.
And local officials have previously been hesitant to begin construction before or during 2017, with fear it would interfere with the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park, but a recent push led by Rep. Greg Steube has fast-tracked the plan.
Trying to speed up the timeline, Steube joined the local delegation that traveled to Tallahassee Thursday to meet with Prasad.
The delegation included Ed Hunzeker and Thomas Harmer, county administrators from Manatee and Sarasota counties, respectively; Manatee Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Sarasota Commission Chairman Charles Hines; Rex Jensen and Todd Pokrywa from SMR; Todd Mathes from Benderson Development, and transportation experts from both counties.
“It was a very productive meeting,” Hunzeker said. “Everybody who was there talked about moving this forward as soon as possible.”
See more on this story in the March 13 East County Observer.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].