Finishing the 44th Avenue extension to Lakewood Ranch receives high priority from Manatee County Commission.
Road priorities for the Manatee County Commission are beginning to shift eastward — mirroring the population growth that has taken place over the last decade.
Several East County projects appeared on the priority list that commissioners passed by a 6-0 vote on Jan. 11. The extension of 44th Avenue East from Creekwood Boulevard to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard was among the 15 items prioritized on the list that the commission is sending to the Metropolitan Planning Organization to seek state and federal funding to complete.
Manatee County Deputy Director of Traffic Management Clarke Davis said that the county has to prioritize projects for the MPO, which in turn combines that list from other member jurisdictions and sends it to the Florida Department of Transportation. FDOT uses the combined lists for selecting projects that will become the state’s equivalent of a capital improvement program.
“This is an important step for us because it identifies those projects for which some state and federal money gets used in the state work program,” Davis said.
The 44th Avenue East project will connect the Lakewood Ranch area to Cortez Road in west Bradenton when it’s completed. It also includes a bridge over the Braden River. That project is scheduled to be completed in 2025.
Although it was not prioritized, the widening of the Fort Hamer Bridge, which was just completed in 2018, was another item on the overall list. Widening Fort Hamer Road from the bridge to U.S. 301 was included as well.
Davis said the widening of the Fort Hamer Bridge and the widening of Fort Hamer road are prime candidates for funding. The current bridge is designed for two lanes, meaning that a new structure would have to be built.
“We would build an additional two-lane bridge, and that essentially widens the bridge,” Hopes said.
Commissioner James Satcher said that widening the Fort Hamer Bridge would cut down on time spent in traffic.
“We are kind of behind on things at this point,” Satcher said.
Satcher said the county can't sit around and wait for decades to get important road projects accomplished.
“We don’t want to end up in the exact same position in East County as we did in west (Manatee) county — especially when new taxes that are growing this budget are coming from East County.”
Administrator Scott Hopes said there are a number of projects east of Interstate 75 on the list, including widening Lorraine Road from State Road 64 to State Road 70, extending Lena Road, and widening Upper Manatee River Road from Fort Hamer Road to State Road 64.
“Given the fact that the feds are pumping all this money into the infrastructure transportation projects, we felt it was important to go ahead and move these major projects into a posture where we can go after federal dollars,” Hopes said.
Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge urged patience when it comes to getting all of the prioritized projects completed.
“The MPO process takes quite a bit longer than it does when we do things from the county level,” he said. “And that's probably why some of the more pressing and urgent road construction projects that are on our list are not on the MPO list because we just simply don't want to wait that long.”
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