When David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, drives through the intersection of University Parkway and Interstate 75, he barely has time to notice
Since Prince Contracting LLC completed work on the interchange, there’s hardly a delay getting through the intersection, whether Hutchinson is heading to Lakewood Ranch to the east or to lunch at a restaurant in the University Town Center corridor to the west.
“We hear very positive feedback from the public,” said Hutchinson of the new interchange configuration. “People who want to go to the mall, or who might live on the east side of the interstate and want lunch on the other side, it used to take them 20 minutes just to get through intersection. Now you don’t even notice it. It’s a lot of time saved.
“There’s no question it’s innovative and helpful.”
That resulting traffic flow has earned the project national recognition.
The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials awarded the Florida Department of Transportation project top honors Aug. 7 for “Best Use of Technology and Innovation” during the America’s Transportation Awards.
The diverging diamond is the largest of its kind in the United States and the first in Florida.
“We’re obviously excited about it,” FDOT District 1 spokesman Zach Burch said of the award. “The DDI is an innovative design. We’re not the first one to build it, but this is the first one in Florida. We don’t build projects to win awards, but certainly we’re always happy when the work we do is not only recognized by the community, but is recognized by peers.”
The project has won awards from American Council of Engineering Companies and the Florida Transportation Builders Association, Burch said.
Burch said the interchange is one of the busiest in Florida with average daily trips of 130,000 vehicles on I-75 itself and between 33,500 and 47,500 trips on either side of University Parkway. Each on- and off-ramp carries more than 17,000 vehicles per day on average.
Burch said the development of Lakewood Ranch and communities east of I-75 fundamentally changed traffic patterns since the interchange was built in the early 1980s.
“From the department’s perspective, (the DDI) really does an outstanding job of improving the traffic flow there and making that interchange a lot better for people traveling along the interstate or University.”
Burch said preliminary data shows the annual number of crashes at the intersection has been cut in half, from 77 to 43. I-75’s intersections with Fruitville Road and State Road 64, meanwhile, both have seen increases in crashes over the past two years.
The I-75 interchange with S.R. 64 is being reconfigured.
Hutchinson said the DDI has lessened backups on I-75 and also has facilitated better access to businesses along the University Parkway corridor.
“There is definitely a lot of traffic on University Parkway, but that is no longer the bottleneck it was,” he said.