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East County Wednesday, May 26, 2021 3 months ago

Lakewood Ranch traffic signal plans come to light

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Manatee County to begin building two signals at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard's Country Club entrances in 2022.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

For years, Manatee County staff members said there wasn't enough traffic on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to warrant a traffic light at the intersection of Balmoral Woods Boulevard, according to Public Works Strategic Affairs Manager Ogden Clark III.

That changed in March 2020 when the county finished extending Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south to Fruitville Road, a move that has directed more traffic through the heart of Lakewood Ranch.

The county is now planning to install traffic lights and crosswalks at the intersection, among other improvements. Design is 90% complete, and construction is scheduled to begin by early spring 2022.

A sister project is also in the works. One mile down the road, traffic lights are scheduled for installation of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Club House Drive, with construction also planned to begin by spring 2022.

The Balmoral Woods Boulevard project is estimated to cost $1.3 million. The estimated cost of the Club House Drive project is $1.1 million, pending a minor property acquisition. An estimated $800,000 will be used to install fiber optic cables from University Parkway to Summerfield Parkway, which will sync both sets of traffic lights with signals located on State Road 70 and University Parkway.

Safety is the main reason Country Club residents said they want to see traffic lights installed at the Balmoral Woods Boulevard intersection. They said it is particularly frustrating to make left turns out of their community from Balmoral Woods Boulevard onto Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

This draft, which is subject to change, shows the plan for a traffic signal, right turn lane extension and crosswalks at Lakewood Ranch and Balmoral Woods boulevards. The design is 90% complete. (Courtesy of Manatee County)

The turn often requires drivers to pull across northbound traffic before sitting in the median on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard waiting for southbound traffic to clear up. Country Club resident Marty Fugardi said he has been worried about what could happen if one driver were to turn left from southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard onto Balmoral Woods Boulevard and crash into a driver sitting in the median who was waiting to merge onto southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

“You have to get across two lanes of traffic to stop in the middle there,” Fugardi said. “There’s people coming southbound, and they're usually going pretty fast. If you have someone trying to turn at the same time, it's ran accident waiting to happen.”

Jim Rogoze is the chairman of Lakewood Ranch Community Development District 6, which governs the western portion of Country Club. He said the intersection is so bad, he knows people who choose not to make a left turn out of Country Club onto southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. Instead, they turn right and drive north until they can find a place to legally and safely U-turn.

Jim Rogoze is the chairman of Lakewood Ranch Community Development District 6, which governs the western portion of Country Club. He knows people who refuse to make a left turn out of Country Club onto Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.

“That intersection, I think, is wider than most,” Rogoze said. “So you have to go quite a long way to clear it.”

Improvements at the Balmoral Woods Boulevard intersection will include extending the northbound right turn lane on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from 220 to 360 feet and adding a light-up “No right on red” sign.

Clark said prohibiting right turns onto Balmoral Woods Boulevard at the red light will make the intersection safer, because it will be easier for people stuck in the median on southbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to turn onto Balmoral Woods Boulevard during breaks in thru-traffic.

Though residents from Country Club have said the Balmoral Woods Boulevard intersection was too hazardous — Rogoze said residents have been fighting for some form of traffic control at the intersection for at least six years — Clark said the county long maintained its position that there wasn’t enough traffic there to warrant traffic lights.

The county’s position changed when Lakewood Ranch Boulevard was extended south to Fruitville Road.

Additional improvements to the intersection at Club House Drive include lengthening both left turn lanes from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard onto Club House Drive as well as minor sidewalk and drainage changes.

Extending the right turn lane onto Balmoral Woods Boulevard will require relocation and removal of two streetlights on the right side of northbound Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The streetlights are owned and maintained by Lakewood Ranch CDD 1, which governs Summerfield and Riverwalk Village, even though they are located at the entrance to part of Country Club governed by Lakewood Ranch CDD 6. CDD 6 did not exist at the time the lights were installed.

Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority Executive Director Anne Ross said removal and relocation will likely cost about $10,000. CDD 1 asked if Manatee County would cover the costs, but the county refused. The streetlights are located on right-of-way owned by the county, meaning the CDD is required to move them if the county wants to use the land for a project.

CDD 1 then offered to split the removal cost with CDD 6 while asking the latter to pay for relocation costs, transferring ownership of the lights from CDD 1 to CDD 6 in the process. CDD 6 accepted, as Rogoze called it generous of CDD 1 to offer to split removal costs.

Currently, visitors are not allowed to use the Balmoral Woods entrance into Country Club until 10:30 a.m. Ross said it has not yet been determined whether that policy will remain in place after the traffic light is installed.

It has been more than three years since Country Club resident Tony Alibrio collected hundreds of signatures on a petition to install four-way stop signs at the intersection of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Balmoral Woods Boulevard.

Though he won't receive the stop signs he originally sought, Alibrio said he is glad to see the county planning to add the traffic control Country Club residents have been asking about for years. However, he’s not quite ready to declare victory. He’s been fighting too long to feel fully satisfied already.

“There’s still a bit to go,” Alibrio said. “I don’t want to believe it until I see the poles going into the ground.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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