Commissioners agree to implement new University Parkway interchange

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SARASOTA, Fla. - A project aimed at easing heavy traffic and congestion at the intersection of University Parkway and I-75 is one step closer. Sarasota and Manatee county commissioners agreed Tuesday to a Florida Department of Transportation request to fund and build a diverging diamond interchange at the busy intersection.

It's a busy intersection that is expected to get even busier.

Commissioners in both counties say they can't waste any more time. With the Mall at University Town Center opening just seven months away and big events planned at Nathan Benderson Park, the traffic at the intersection, which sits on the county line, needs a resolution.

"The economy's turned around in the last few years. Development's taking off. Sarasota County and Manatee County is very popular to live in now and we just said we can't wait," says Charles D. Hines, Sarasota County Commission Chair.

Both counties have signed off on FDOT's request to construct what’s called a “diverging diamond” interchange. "When we first saw the plans for the diverging diamond, it was pretty confusing and it was unique to Florida."

FDOT will fund and construct the system that they believe will solve the traffic nightmare.

Traffic models show how the double diverging interchange will work. The layout requires traffic to briefly switch sides on University Parkway, which is controlled through traffic lights. This system removes the need for “left turn only” traffic lights, reducing the amount time that traffic is stopped.

The interchange will be the first of its kind to be constructed in the state of Florida. “Florida Department of Transportation really wants to do this at this intersection. What they were looking for was the two counties to say “Okay, we're with you. We agree with it.’"

FDOT says that new design will decrease congestion, increase the capacity of vehicles, minimize turning conflicts, and ultimately reduce the cost of new infrastructure.

Commissioners have unanimously agreed to allow the project, which will cost FDOT an estimated $60 million.

Hines plans to go to Tallahassee this week, where he says he will find out a more definitive timeline on when construction will begin and end.

The nearby Mall at University Town Center is expected to open in October, and the World Rowing Championships are scheduled in Nathan Benderson Park in 2017.