The MPO hosted its second of about 20 focus group meetings last week in Lakewood Ranch.
LAKEWOOD RANCH — As 14 residents of the Lakewood Ranch community sat in a semicircle at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall Thursday, they had one thing in mind: transportation.
The focus group met with Michael Maholtz, transportation planner with the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional transportation planning agency, and Nick Lepp, a consultant with Renaissance Planning Group, to discuss transportation needs and priorities for the next 40 years.
The focus group meeting was the second in a series of about 20 the MPO will host across Sarasota and Manatee counties as it works to finalize its Strategic Mobility Plan, which projects transportation needs and sets priorities for transportation through 2040. Officials will adopt the plan in December.
“It’s part of our public outreach,” Maholtz said. “What do they see as problems and what might fix them?”
MPO officials will meet with representatives of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance this week. Other focus groups will target area chamber of commerces, redevelopment agencies and representatives of various industries, Maholtz said.
“It’s hard to get a good attendance at a large public workshop,” Maholtz said. “Our big input comes from these (focus group) meetings and our new website.”
Lakewood Ranch residents shared their concerns about existing roads and future transportation needs during the hour-and-a-half-long meeting.
Participant Jim Bloomquist said although the Florida Department of Transportation plans to widen Interstate 75 to include express lanes between exits, the concept should be advanced.
“The research is clear (on how much this improves traffic flow); if it isn’t in the five-year plan or the 10-year plan, it’s been missed,” he said.
Maholtz said the MPO does not handle state-level projects, but such a concept would require more political influence than the area currently has. Land is set aside for I-75’s ultimate 12-lane configuration.
Longtime resident Don O’Leary pulled out a list he created, estimating 4,300 homes and 9,000 vehicles being added to State Road 70, east of Lorraine Road.
“State Road 70 is a one-lane Road there,” O’Leary said.
The need to advance the widening of the roadway, O’Leary said, already exists.
Maholtz said a study of that area began about one year ago.
Maholtz and Lepp said the focus group proved valuable.
“There’s a lot of unfinished needs that are out there,” Lepp said. “We’ve identified them in 2035, but we need to see if we can bump them up.”
Individuals can offer suggestions for the Strategic Mobility Plan on the MPO’s new website, strategicmobilityplan.com.
On the website, MPO officials ask specific questions of visitors, such as “What are your concerns for mobility for seniors and what are your suggested solutions to these concerns?” and “How would you rate the condition of the road infrastructure in your community?” among others.