EAST COUNTY — As Lakewood Ranch resident Jay Robbins took a seat next to an aerial photograph showing proposed improvements to the intersection of Interstate 75 and University Parkway, he still couldn’t shake the feeling of uncertainty.
As the Florida Department of Transportation prepares to move forward with construction of a diverging diamond design for the interchange, Robbins and fellow East County residents worry about how construction will impact their day-to-day lives and also how the improvement will affect them long term.
“The problem for me is the timing of events — some are decades in the future,” Robbins said. “There’s no way to know how terrible things will be in the interim. The diamond is simple to understand, but if you put it in, how will that impact (other roadwork)? How does it impact already bad traffic at Cattlemen Road and Market Street? It’s not clear what problems will be alleviated by the work done in two years.”
FDOT officials stood by June 26, as the organization hosted its first public forum on the proposed reconfiguration of the I-75 and University Parkway interchange.
More than 200 people came to the Lakewood Ranch Holiday Inn to review site plans and see a video modeling how the proposed diverging diamond interchange would work.
FDOT has completed most of the design for the roughly $60 million project. Officials expect to have the design finalized in January or February and to start construction in summer 2015, if funding is in place.
FDOT currently has no dollars allotted to the project, but expects to fund it with monies leftover from other state projects that come in under budget.
The diverging diamond at University Parkway is the first of its kind in Florida, although FDOT has more planned for the area, including four others in District 1, project engineer Kevin Ingle said.
Other diverging diamonds are proposed at I-75 and Clarke and Fruitville roads, as well as one in Fort Myers. A hybrid diverging diamond is planned at Bee Ridge Road, as well, Ingle said.
“You are going to see more and more of these,” Ingle said. “If the conditions are correct, it is a successful interchange to increase capacity. The heavy movement of left turns — that’s what makes this interchange superior.”
Ingle said the improvements are part of FDOT’s plans to make every interchange the “ultimate” interchange. Long term, FDOT plans to further widen I-75, including adding an express lane for which drivers would likely pay a toll for access.
Ingle guaranteed the proposed improvement to I-75 and University Parkway will improve traffic there, based on modeling that includes traffic from the Mall at University Town Center, which will open in October.
Meeting attendees who saw the design and simulation said it made sense.
“I think it’s awesome,” Sarasota resident Paula McGrath said. “I think it makes sense and it flows. It was a great presentation. It puts the information out there and the video was really a plus.”
Frank Domingo agreed.
“It’s a great project,” said Domingo, who has driven the design in other states. “It works. It’s boring once you (drive) it.”
Edgewater’s Helene Levin said the design looks complicated, but she expects it will function well. She remained concerned, however, about north-south roadway alternatives, particularly for individuals who live east of I-75 off University Parkway. To travel south to Fruitville, Edgewater residents, for example, must either drive through the interchange to Cattlemen Road or Honore Avenue, or take I-75 to go south.
The extension of Lorraine Road needs to be expedited, she said. Or, she said, the roadway should be opened during interchange construction.
“That would give some relief to the residents,” she said.
Lorraine Road south of University is on private property owned by Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. Approvals for SMR’s Villages of Lakewood Ranch South project require the extension of Lorraine Road, but not at this time.
Ingle said improvements to the county’s transportation network, including Lorraine Road improvements, are outside the scope of FDOT’s work. As part of overall I-75/University improvements, FDOT proposes the widening of a 1-mile stretch of University Parkway from Cattlemen Road to Market Street. However, the counties are responsible for improving those intersections.
“Our concept is to fix the interchange itself,” he said.
For more information on FDOT’s plans to improve intersections along the I-75 corridor, visit www.i75manatee.com.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].