Price Boulevard widening plan in North Port's future

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NORTH PORT, Fla. -- It's been talked about for years, and now the wheels are finally in motion on a plan to widen Price Boulevard in North Port. It's a move to help the flow of traffic, but it could have a large impact on the many residents who live along the stretch.

North Port Mayor Jim Blucher says widening Price Boulevard from two to four lanes is a must.

The current two lane road gets congested during busy parts of the day, and city leaders say the widening is inevitable for the growing city.

"Traffic here in the morning, and in the evening coming back from school and back from work, is horrendous," Blucher says.

After U.S. 41 and I-75, it's really the city's only other east-west route. Commissioners and staff agreed at a recent workshop to really start looking at it.

"We are all in agreement we are going to put it on our capital expenditures five year plan," Blucher says. The officials also agreed on which section needs to be done first, the stretch running from Sumter Boulevard to Toledo Blade. The big problem with that is there are currently dozens of homes there.

"We are not happy with it," says resident Rick Backiel. "Nobody wants to live on a four lane highway."

Backiel says he and some of his neighbors have been hearing stories about potential plans for years. He's not sure how bad the impact will be.

"We've heard they were going to buy houses on one side of the street," he says. "Who knows? If they do widen it, are we going to lose half our driveway and some of our trees?"

Blucher says it's likely the plan would not be similar to the Sumter Boulevard plan, which is currently in the last phase of a widening that cost more than $30 million.

"We think we can do it in the 100 foot right away we currently have without taking any homes and without taking any property," he says.

Still, more traffic isn't very appealing to many here. A proposed Dollar General store along the road has brought out neighbors saying it doesn't fit in. However some predict that the largest city in Sarasota County will balloon from the current level of 60,000 residents to more than 200,000 by the year 2050.

"We've got to stay in front of it," Blucher says. "I will not let happen what has happened in the past, where we let our roads go."