- April 1, 2020
Eagle Trace resident Ned Fishman doesn’t like the current traffic situation in the greater Lakewood Ranch area — and he doesn’t expect it to get any better in the decade ahead.
He just visited metro New York, where an estimated 50-minute drive took him two hours. Although that kind of gridlock might not be here now, he worries it could be in the new decade.
“If people keep moving here at the same rate, you’re going to have the same problem here, maybe just not on as grand of scale,” he said.
Over the next decade, both Manatee County and the Florida Department of Transportation will be working to address the area’s growing transportation needs through the addition and widening of roadways, as well as improvements at various intersections.
In Lakewood Ranch, six roadway segments are expected to be completed or opened by the end of first quarter 2020. It’s just the start.
Chad Butzow, Manatee county’s public works director, said those connections should create more routes for East County residents and have a short-term impact for improving traffic. From a county perspective, however, he said the biggest transportation enhancement over the next decade will be the extension of 44th Avenue East east across both the Braden River and Interstate 75 and through eastern Lakewood Ranch.
“That, in some ways, will be a game-changer for Lakewood Ranch when we get across the interstate,” Butzow said, noting it adds capacity to the roadway network. “You won’t have to use State Road 70 or State Road 64 to cross the interstate.”
Butzow said the 44th Avenue East project will provide a east-west transportation connection across the entire county.
He said planning for another two lanes of the Fort Hamer Bridge could begin this decade but seeing that bridge in the 2020s is unlikely.
“People are talking about it now,” Butzow said. “But it’s not [currently] in the plan.”
His department is starting to schedule improvements based on its traffic projections, so projects are funded when they are needed. For example, it now plans to signalize the intersection of Balmoral Woods and Lakewood Ranch boulevards in
fiscal year 2023, when it expects traffic conditions will warrant a signal.
Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said keeping up with roadway infrastructure is important for maintaining the area’s quality of life. She said the county needs to take a big-picture look at the area’s transportation grid and should identify and find ways, such as issuing bonds, to fund more transportation projects.
Those could include projects of widening Lorraine Road between state roads 64 and 70 and an extension of Lena Road, neither of which are in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan.
“We can’t continue at the rate we’re going,” Baugh said. “We’re seeing more major accidents.”
Sarasota County Public Works Director Spencer Anderson said there are no major projects besides the extension of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard south to Fruitville Road planned for the East County area in Sarasota. Preliminary design and engineering has been completed on a flyover across I-75 that will eventually connect Lakewood Ranch Boulevard with Cattlemen Road, but the project is not funded in the county’s five-year work program, and he could not provide an estimate for construction.
On a state level, the Florida Department of Transportation is under construction for its $80.8 million project to reconfigure the interchange of I-75 and S.R. 70 and widen 6.75 miles of I-75 from north of University Parkway to south of S.R. 64. That project is supposed to be finished in spring 2021.
FDOT has announced its $90.1 million plan to widen and improve S.R. 70 east of Lorraine Road over the next decade, starting with the segment from Lorraine Road to Post Boulevard. After that, it will widen or improve S.R. 70 and also construct roundabouts at six intersections between Lorraine Road and County Road 675. Construction of the final segment is anticipated to start in fiscal year 2025.