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East County Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 8 months ago

Interstate 75/State Road 70 interchange project near Lakewood Ranch nears completion

Construction on the interchange of Interstate 75 and State Road 75 should be completed in January according to FDOT. Pandemic, weather slowed project from its expected summer 2020 finish.
by: Scott Lockwood Staff Writer

A large road construction project at the State Road 70 and Interstate 75 interchange should be finished in January according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

For the last three years crews from Spain-based Sacyr have been rebuilding and reshaping the interchange. Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Andy Orrell said the project, which was originally scheduled to be completed last summer, should be wrapped up by the end of January.

“We’ve done well with this project,” Orrell said. “The problem is that trying to deal with this in the time of COVID has been trickier than we would have expected. We've had to deal with a lot of supply side chain disruptions. We've had entire crews that have had to go down because of COVID concerns. We’ve also had a lot of weather issues as well.”

When it’s finished, the $80.8 million project will have widened to eight lanes a 6.75-mile stretch of I-75 from north of University Parkway to south of S.R. 64, reconstructed the S.R. 70/I-75 interchange by eliminating three of the four loop on-ramp configurations, widened I-75 entrance and exit ramps, replaced the bridge over S.R. 70, widened the bridge over the Braden River and resurfaced S.R. 70 between Tara Boulevard and 87th Street East. The project has also added sidewalks and 6½-foot buffered bike lanes along S.R. 70.

"We're almost to the point where we're starting to (begin) the end game for the project,” Orrell said. “In fact, we're going to start doing the more minor things that you usually do at the end of a project, like fixing sound wall errors, water retention, ponds, things of that nature. I'd be surprised if we didn't get this thing done pretty quickly in the new year.”

Richard Delarosa of Sacyr Construction helps guide traffic coming from the east on S.R. 70 onto the southbound on-ramp for Interstate 75 on Dec. 3.

Interstate 75 has new interchanges with S.R. 70 at every corner except the northwest, which will remain a loop. The new interchange will be a modified diamond, meaning the three non-loop ramps will diverge only slightly from the interstate. Loop ramps are inefficient for an interchange with major traffic, including plenty of trucks. The one remaining loop will double in size to make it more gradual, meaning it will be easier for trucks to use.

The largest change of late has been the reopening of the southbound on-ramp to 75 for drivers traveling eastbound on S.R. 70. After nearly five months of having to use temporary turn lanes to use what is now the southbound on-ramp for drivers coming from the west. Orrell said the new ramp opened on Nov. 10 and that FDOT doesn’t foresee any more road closures related to construction. 

“That's difficult to predict,” he said. “It just depends on how construction is going and what the needs are of the construction crews.”

Several area drivers said on social media that the modified diamond has been difficult to navigate, particularly on eastbound S.R. 70. To access I-75, drivers have to get into the right two lanes on S.R. 70, with the dividing curb being hard to see before the lane markings are finished.

“I hope they are planning on better signage,” said Country Club East resident Wayne Lozier. “Heading west on 70 getting on the southbound side of 75 is very confusing. If you miss the turnoff, it becomes very difficult to turn around.”

Lake club resident Margie Mayer said the barrier that’s in place without sufficient signage doesn’t give drivers enough time to get over into the right lanes. 

Area drivers have complained about this entrance to the modified diamond on eastbound State Road 70. They say that the curbing is hard to see and there is a lack of signage directing drivers to the proper lanes to get to I-75.

“Living locally, I noticed it before I had to use it. But for those encountering it for the first time it’s easy to miss,” she said.

Gale Gee, a University Park resident who has experience working in road construction, said the project has been a “terrible mess with terrible signage.”

“There are accidents here even with Florida Highway Patrol on site— sometimes daily,” Gee said. “I hope they plan to fix this. Switching the on ramps going south bound was a disaster. People are crossing over three lanes to get on because now they realize they are on the wrong side, again due to signage.”

Lakewood Ranch resident Lisa Cushman echoed the thoughts of everyone that has passed through the area by saying she’s happy the project is nearly complete. She also offered some pointed words at fellow drivers that have created dangerous issues for workers and others alike.

“I appreciate the improvements,” she said. “It’s going to be fantastic. It’s not the work that's being done. It’s the drivers who don’t pay attention.”

Once construction wraps up, travelers on I-75 will still have to deal with construction in Manatee and Sarasota Counties. FDOT recently began construction on what will become a diverging diamond similar to the University Parkway interchange on the State Road 72 exit in Sarasota. Orrell said that work is also beginning on the I-75/U.S. 301 interchange in Ellenton, but finishing the work on S.R. 70 is priority.

This retention pond at the southeast corner of the Interstate 75-State Road 70 interchange is one of the new features that will aid in storm drainage in the $80.8 million project.

“All of these are progressing very well,” Orrell said. “This is really the one that we're putting the majority of our focus into. We are really excited about what it is going to do for traffic in that area and really helping the lives of the people who live in Lakewood Ranch and eastern Manatee County.”


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