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East County Thursday, Sep. 22, 2022 3 days ago

Rosedale residents struggle with Lena Road extension

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Manatee County is planning to connect the two lengths of Lena Road, but residents worry that turning Lena into a frontage road is going to greatly increase traffic overall, especially truck traffic.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

When you want to appreciate the master-planned community of Lakewood Ranch, you only have to look for nearby areas that, well, aren’t quite as master-planned.

Of course that is to be expected because most areas don’t start with 50 square miles all controlled by the same company.

Those pesky plots of land twist and turn and their borders don’t lend themselves to perfect planning.

Take, for instance, Rosedale’s current clash with surrounding roads.

Go back 30 years and I am sure it all seemed very simple. You had a major highway being established north and south in Interstate 75, a nice, straight, four-lane thoroughfare in State Road 70 that went east and west and a fancy community that fit into the entire picture like the piece of a puzzle.

Rosedale’s main entrance released onto S.R. 70, and residents could pour out onto that road and with a right-hand turn, you were right to I-75 and access to the entire region. No worries.

I wonder, however, if anyone did a flyover?

Years ago, I had read a story about the late Dean Lesher, who owned Lesher Communications and a bunch of newspapers, doing a flyover of the eastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area when he was deciding where to build his media empire. He looked at all the roads and how they converged and then imagined how other roads would emerge around the major highways. He was a smart guy, and he built his business accordingly.

I am sure Rosedale’s planner, Robert Hunt, looked at the available land here and considered how everything would develop inside its borders. It is, indeed, beautiful. But who, ultimately, is responsible for the roads around it?

Most people likely would say that responsibility falls on Manatee County.

It all becomes an issue now that Manatee County is planning to connect the two lengths of Lena Road that has its southern and northern lengths separated by approximately a half-mile of privately owned land. Once accomplished, Lena Road will effectively become a frontage road or a service road for I-75, which is important in allowing local traffic to flow when the interstate clogs.

However, that complicates matters for Rosedale residents, who are worried that turning Lena into a frontage road is going to greatly increase traffic overall, especially truck traffic. The biggest problem becomes Rosedale’s main entrance on S.R. 70.

That intersection has a signal light that allows Rosedale residents to go either east or west on S.R. 70, or go straight across from Rosedale’s entrance (a very short 87th Street East) to Ranch Lake Boulevard and the shopping area that includes Walmart. It all would have worked perfectly, except for that little strip of road between Rosedale and the interstate — Lena Road.

When Lena Road — the section that runs north from S.R. 70 — was a nothing road that nobody cared about, it didn’t matter that it would be impossible to make a left-hand turn where it intersected with S.R. 70. Again, nobody cared. Like a homeowner doing his own electrical work, a jerry-rigged course would send motorists traveling south on Lena to make a left-hand turn just before S.R. 70, on 54th Drive East, a route that put them right in front of Rosedale’s main entrance, clashing with the traffic coming out of that neighborhood.

The traffic headed down 54th Drive East would then dodge cars coming out of Rosedale to make a right turn onto 87th Street East to access the stop light on State Road 70 to make that cherished left-hand turn.

When Lena Road was a nothing road, it only led to occasional dodgeball interactions in front of the Rosedale main gate. Now? Yikes.

Rosedale residents are afraid making Lena Road a S.R. 70/S.R. 64 connector is going to lead to a daily bumper cars ride in front of their main gate.

The staff at Manatee County Public Works appreciates those concerns. Unfortunately, they have inherited a rather impossible situation because nobody understood the importance of a frontage road back 30 years ago.

The distance between the existing traffic signal at S.R. 70’s intersection with Ranch Lake Boulevard/87th Street East is too short to put in another traffic light at S.R. 70 and Lena Road.

Somebody should have done a flyover years ago, noticing that Lena Road eventually would become a key thoroughfare. Redesigning that entire stretch of road would be a huge financial burden for taxpayers.

Through all this, Manatee County’s Public Works department deserves high marks for not burying its head in the sand. Ogden Clark, the county’s strategic affairs manager for Public Works, met with Rosedale residents on two days this past week via Zoom to discuss Lena Road and keep them informed.

“We had a good meeting,” said Rosedale’s Fred Booth. “We came away from it thinking they want to work with us.”

Booth, who said the 14 Rosedale HOA presidents were among those on the call, said there was a mutual agreement that the “sky is not falling” and to be focused on things that can be done.

He said Rosedale residents were hoping the county would put a traffic light at the intersection of Lena Road and S.R. 70, but they realize now that isn’t possible.

Residents, though, continued to voice their concern about traffic buildup in front of their main entrance.

“They probably are sick of hearing it,” Booth said of the county staff members. “They are aware of our concerns.”

Booth said other concerns are excessive noise from increased truck traffic and similar traffic problems at Rosedale’s north exit/entrance on 44th Avenue. Those are concerns that could have solutions.

The residents have been pushing for weight limits on stretches of Lena Road that could limit heavy truck traffic. They believe a traffic signal at their gate on 44th Avenue will be important.

“The new (Robert Toale & Sons’ Celebration of Life Center) is open right there, and a lot of other businesses are coming,” Booth said. “It’s going to be crazy.”

Booth said residents were informed the Lena Road sections wouldn’t be connected until the 44th Avenue extension was complete, most likely in 2025. So there is time to consider options. The current Manatee County plan does not call for a signal light, which would cost approximately $2 million, at Rosedale’s northern entrance on 44th Avenue.

“He told us to keep pushing for that signal light because it makes sense,” Booth said of Clark. “We will continue to do that.”

Manatee County also is devoting space on its website (MyManatee.org/Lena) to keep residents informed about upcoming projects. Booth said it helps.

“They have told us that if we have concerns, to please call,” Booth said. “It calms the nerves.”

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Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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