Officials look to fix Lakewood Ranch traffic nightmare

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- The intersection of University Parkway and I-75 was a topic of conversation for top transportation officials and state and county lawmakers today. The group addressed the problem of increasing traffic gridlock.

Many of them worry that new developments, like the Benderson Park rowing facility and the Mall at University Town Center, are about to make the traffic problems worse.

Now county commissioners from both Manatee and Sarasota, along with Rep. Greg Steube and top transportation officials in the state may have hammered out of a solution to the traffic problems plaguing the residents of Lakewood Ranch, for whom the University-I-75 intersection represents a major obstacle.

"It takes forever to get anywhere and its growing," says Jean Corn, one of the many motorists who frequent the Lakewood Ranch area near University and I-75. Corn says the traffic there is becoming unbearable. 

"I don't think they've allowed enough room for the mall, and its very frightening to think what it will be like once [it opens]," Corn says.  "I don't know where they're going to put everybody."

Corn isn't alone in worrying. More than 200 Lakewood Ranch residents voiced similar concerns at a Town Hall meeting Wednesday, and Thursday both Manatee and Sarasota County commissioners, along with State Representative Greg Steube, took the matter to top Department of Transportation officials.

"The secretary and I have had many of conversations about the state taking over that intersection," says Rep. Steube. Those talks included the state taking over funding for infrastructure improvements there.

Steube says the option currently being developed would turn the University/I-75 intersection into a diverging diamond to accommodate the increased traffic. Officials from the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (SMMPO) say there may also be some other options in the works to help divert traffic.


"The completion of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard down to Fruitville is very important," says David Hutchinson of the SMMPO. "There's [also] a discussion and the consideration for a connection over the Interstate just south of the mall."

But until those road projects begin, residents like Corn say they will continue to worry about the increased road congestion.

"I know once the new mall opens its going to be traffic, and not in a good way," she says.

In addition, Hutchinson says their has also been discussion about a connection State Road 70 and University Parkway, though that plan is still preliminary and the Department of Transportation must first obtain funding.