Manatee County provides an update on massive project that will connect Lakewood Ranch with Cortez Road.
Construction of a quarter-mile bridge over the Braden River, part of a larger project to extend 44th Avenue East from Cortez Road to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, is about 75% complete, according to Ogden Clark III, the strategic affairs manager for the Manatee County Public Works Department.
The current phase of the 44th Avenue East extension, which will extend the road about 2.5 miles from 45th Street East to a location a quarter-mile west of Interstate-75 and include a bridge over the Braden River, also known as Project 5, is on track to be completed by October 2022.
The 44th Avenue East extension is estimated at a total cost of $145.64 million and consists of six individual projects. Project 5 is the most expensive project, estimated at $67.8 million.
As part of the Project 5 extension, 44th Avenue East will be widened to four lanes. The bridge will have shoulders, traffic railing barriers, sidewalk, multi-use trail, utilities and street lighting. Improvements on the rest of the road will include bike lanes, divided median, curb and gutter, sidewalk, multi-use trail, street lighting and utilities.
Project 5 will also include a realignment of Caruso Road with Morgan Johnson Road, which will lead to a signalized intersection with 44th Avenue East. The new section of Caruso Road will include the western two lanes of a future four-lane section, in addition to a bike lane, curb and gutter, paved shoulder, sidewalk and street lighting.
“It will connect people a lot easier, a lot smoother,” Clark said. “There were some safety concerns with that turn as well and it being on a narrow road.”
A signal will be added at the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Creekwood Boulevard.
County Engineer Scott May said the project will include replacement of pipes and utilities that are 47 years old. Though they weren’t necessarily due for replacement for another 10 to 15 years, it is more efficient and cost-effective to replace them now in conjunction with the extensive roadwork.
“It’s a major transmission line that we have in this location,” May said. “We have a booster pump station for the water that actually goes all the way out to the island. That's why there's going to be a lot of underground work being done initially before they can get to the actual roadway creation itself.
Clark said the portion of Braden River where the bridge is being constructed will be closed to boaters Aug. 16-20 to allow pile driving for installments of the bridge.
“To get the crane where it needs to be for this segment of the bridge that they're building, the crane kind of has to be in the middle of the channel,” Clark said. “It negates any ability for boats to get through.”
At some point after school begins Aug. 10, the closure of Morgan Johnson Road north of 44th Avenue East will be required for utility work. Clark said a detour was still being planned and will be posted when the closure comes.
Other aspects of Project 6 that need to be completed include paving, striping and addition of medians, streetlights, bike lanes, sidewalks and the multi-use trail.
Project 6 will start just west of I-75 and extend eastward to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, including an overpass across the interstate. The project was expected to start in the 2021 fiscal year but was delayed because of issues with right of way, land acquisition and permitting. County staff members needed to identify stormwater pond sites and land needed for those ponds, as well as land for the future connection of Lena Road to 44th Avenue.
The design phase is now expected to be complete by April. Project Manager Eric Shroyer said construction could begin as soon as the summer of 2022, according to Clark. Construction of Project 6 is expected to take about three years.
In Feb. 2020, Manatee County commissioners accepted a $10 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation for the project. The agreement requires Manatee County to finish construction by Dec. 31, 2022. The rest of the funding for Projects 5 and 6 comes from a combination of impact fees, gas taxes, the county’s highway capital fund and bonding.
When completed, the 44th Avenue extension will connect Cortez Road to the west with Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to the east. The project has been in Manatee County’s plans since the 1960s as a link between the southwest and eastern parts of the county.
“The ball got rolling on addressing growth here in Manatee County, and the fact that the increased capacity was needed, in 2007, which was kind of the height of the economic boom right before the downturn,” Clark said. “There was probably the general consensus that we've got funding coming from this growth, and we've got the need for capacity. Let’s follow through with that plan.”
Clark said in February 2020 the extension will create additional capacity for 36,000 vehicles per day and is expected to reduce demand on parallel state roads 70 and 64 by a maximum of 21,000 vehicles per day. It also is expected to reduce traffic demand on the interchanges of state roads 70 and 64 with Interstate 75.
Construction on the first segment of the 44th Avenue East extension began in 2013 at Cortez Road. After the roadway spans east to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, there will be about 8 consecutive miles of roadway connecting Cortez Road, with its trail to the beaches, to Lakewood Ranch.
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