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East County Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019 1 month ago

Transportation officials look to future in Lakewood Ranch area

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Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization hosts discussion on longterm transportation planning.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

As local transportation officials look to the future, they know there will be more vehicles on the roadways.

But how Sarasota and Manatee counties choose to develop will largely dictate what roadway improvements will be needed decades from now.

The Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, the agency tasked with long-term transportation planning for

the region, is working to create its 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan. The plan identifies priorities for roads and transportation options for the next 20 years.

On Oct. 21, the MPO will hold a planning workshop, called Transform Tomorrow, from 8:15-11:30 a.m. at Manatee Technical College, 6305 State Road 70 E., Bradenton. The public will learn about the results of a Long Range Transportation Plan survey, how the responses were used to create future scenarios and how those scenarios will impact the future of transportation.

“All the data we’re looking at, of course, shows significant growth east of I-75,” MPO Transportation Strategic Planning Manager Leigh Holt said. “Making sure the transportation system is growing to accommodate that growth is going to be very important.”

Consultant Chris Sinclair, of Renaissance Planning, has been developing the four scenarios that will be presented. Sinclair said the visions they represent are the result of previously held public meetings from which three themes — economic diversification, environmental protection and choices for housing and transit — emerged.

Each scenario uses the same forecast for how many new people, households and jobs will come to the area between now and 2070, based on data from the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The “trend” scenario considers past development trends and projects them into the future.

“There is going to be more traffic pulling into and out of Lakewood Ranch and more pressure on those roads,” Sinclair said. “In other scenarios, where there’s not as much development out east, Lakewood Ranch can almost be considered the eastern edge of the area.”

The “economic diversity” scenario emphasizes a need for high-tech employers to locate in the area and contemplates places for those businesses to be established and for their employees to live. It puts a greater emphasis on education.

Sinclair said the “environmental health” scenario is designed to protect major ecosystems by preserving lands in the eastern portions of Sarasota and Manatee counties, as well as estuaries along the gulf. It assumes new development will occur in Lakewood Ranch, but not much farther east.

The final scenario, called “vibrant places,” emphasizes major transit corridors, providing places for alternative transit options, such as bus-only travel lanes and transit-oriented housing developments.

“This is really, ‘What will the future hold not only for you but the people after you?’” Sinclair said. “When people get engaged in that conversation, they get pretty passionate about it.”

Holt said the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan is the first plan that has had to contemplate issues including sea level rise, autonomous vehicles and accommodating more electric vehicles.

“The world is very different today than it was five years ago,” Holt said. “The scenario planning allows everyone in the audience to come in with their preconceived ideas and to envision the way it might be with their ideas in mind. But then you [consider alternatives]. You take all those scenarios and all those people’s comments and ideas, and you blend them together to come up with a vision.”

Holt said that final vision incorporating Transform Tomorrow comments, as well as results of an online survey, will be revealed Feb. 24, 2020. The vision will be used to identify transportation priorities within the 2045 plan and the projects required to accomplish those goals.

The 2045 Long Range Transportation plan itself will be adopted in fall 2020.

The plan is updated every five years.

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