Construction set to begin on the most expensive 44th Avenue segment, which crosses the Braden River, in Manatee County.
Within the next two months, Manatee County will begin construction of the most expensive section of the 44th Avenue East extension, a long-range project slated to connect Cortez Road in the west with Lakewood Ranch to the east.
Manatee County Public Works officials are in the process of selecting a contractor for the roughly $68 million section, which will span 2.5 miles from 45th Street East across the Braden River to the west side of Interstate 75. Once the contractor is picked, construction will begin.
On Feb. 10, 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 state funding puts a dent in the total project cost, estimated at $136.44 million. About $64.7 million has been spent on the project to date. Two phases, including the section across the Braden River and another across I-75, are yet to begin construction.
“Every amount [granted by the state] helps the taxpayer in Manatee County,” District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said of securing state funding. “It is to help Manatee County be able to try to improve the congestion we are seeing on our roads today. Unlike before, in the last five or six years, the county is now realizing our priorities need to change, and we are looking to try to improve our roads for our citizens.”
Baugh said she was grateful to Sen. Bill Galvano and Gov. Ron DeSantis for approving the funding in this year’s state budget.
The four-lane section of 44th Avenue East from 45th Street East across the Braden River includes two bridges, as well as the reconfiguration of the intersection of 44th Avenue East and Caruso Road.
In August 2019, Manatee County announced there would be delays constructing the final segment of 44th Avenue, which runs from just west of I-75 to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The project had been slated for fiscal year 2021, but it was delayed because of issues related to rights of way. 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.
Additionally, environmental permitting must be reviewed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and Manatee County must coordinate with FDOT about building across I-75.
Manatee County Public Works staff members said the I-75 overpass is in the design and permitting phases, but there is no completion date because those efforts are still ongoing.
Baugh said she is hopeful the project will advance quickly and get back on track.
“We are trying to move it forward as quickly as we can,” she said. “Hopefully, within five years, we’ll be able to have [both sections] completed.”
The 44th Avenue East roadway extension project has been in Manatee County’s plans since the 1960s as a link between the southwest and eastern parts of the county.
Ogden Clark, strategic affairs manager for the Public Works division, said the extension is important because it will create additional capacity for 36,000 vehicles per day and is expected to reduce demand on parallel state roads 70 and 64 by up to 21,000 vehicles per day altogether. 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 and its trail to the beaches to Lakewood Ranch.