With construction at the Interstate 75/State Road 70 interchange set to begin soon, the county has agreed with local residents to lower the speed limit on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to 25 miles-per-hour, from its current levels of 35- and 45 miles-per-hour, between State Road 64 and University Parkway.
At issue is frustrated commuters on I-75 ditching the highway and moving over to Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to avoid congestion. The congestion should increase as construction begins at the interchange.
The lower speed will go into effect June 1.
"It has turned Lakewood Ranch Boulevard into Lakewood Motor Speedway," said CDD 8 Supervisor Jack E. Stewart. "If you live along that section of road, you feel like you are playing 'Frogger' just to get out of a side road on and into the race."
Local law enforcement officials said they will support the lower speed limit with regular radar patrols every half mile along the stretch. Fines for speeding (more than 10 miles over the posted limit) will be doubled since it is a heavily populated residential area that will be well posted. Those fines will be $550 or more.
Lakewood Ranch resident Missy Terns said she never drives more than 25 miles per hour on the stretch of road anyway, and usually she feels like other cars are "trying to jump over her."
"I can't understand why everyone is in which a hurry," said Terns, who is 79. "I moved to Florida to enjoy a slower pace of life and I need to drink four cups of coffee before I go to my pottery class. These young people don't know how to drive, and it seems like there is even more of them around during Season."
Stewart said the situation will be monitored to see if additional measures must be taken.
"Anyone who thinks they can use Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a north-south artery when I-75 backs up is in for a shocking surprise," Stewart said. "Once they crawl along for five miles, they won't be back. And if they do come back, and continue to speed, we have some other ideas for the future."
Stewart has started a movement to place 12 speed bumps along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard in the area affected.
Some commuters said they will continue to use Lakewood Ranch Boulevard as a detour when things get dicey on the interstate.
"Twenty-five is better than standstill," said Bob Andweave, who lives in St. Petersburg and commutes to Venice five days a week. "They aren't going to affect my routine. If I have to go a little slower, fine. It means I will have extra time to drink an extra cup of coffee while I do business on the phone."
Lakewood Ranch resident Bee Uptomistic said she will make the best of it.
"Everything is going to work out fine," she said. "I think this all eventually will blow over and we will be back up to speed. You know, a lot of times, I am driving 25 miles per hour on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard anyway. There is some crazy lady who drives 25 all the time now."