Proposal first was unveiled to Sarasota and Manatee county commissioners in 2013
On April 16, 2013, representatives of a consulting firm working with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) unveiled a radical new design that they indicated could resolve the constant complaints about congestion at the University Parkway interchange with Interstate 75. It was called a diverging diamond, and none had been built in Florida.
The presentation during a joint meeting of the Sarasota and Manatee county commissions included the showing of a video explaining how a diverging diamond works. Several board members’ faces took on quizzical expressions as they watched and listened to it. Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore later spoke of “freaking out” as video showed drivers negotiating a diverging diamond in Utah.
Less than a year later — on March 25, 2014 — the Sarasota County Commission not only unanimously approved a resolution in support of that diverging diamond proposal for the University Parkway interchange but also urged FDOT to prioritize the project. Then Chair Charles Hines became one of the leading advocates for the project in Tallahassee.
During an October 2016 joint meeting with the members of the Longboat Town Commission, Hines pointed out that leaders of both Sarasota and Manatee counties made their case to legislators that with the World Rowing Championships planned for September 2017 at Nathan Benderson Park and new residential developments continuing to be planned in the immediate area, the sooner the diverging diamond could be finished, the better. That advocacy, Hines said during the Oct. 25, 2016 meeting, “moved [the project] forward 15 years.”
Construction began in August 2015.
On the morning of Sunday, May 21 — slightly ahead of the schedule FDOT had indicated — the diverging diamond will open at University Parkway and I-75, FDOT announced this week. The total cost of the project is $75.4 million.
University Parkway will consist of five westbound lanes and five eastbound lanes as of May 21, a news release says. Upon final completion of the project, an additional lane will be created in each direction, the release adds.
Westbound traffic will divert (shift) from the north side of University Parkway to the south side, and eastbound traffic will divert from the south side of University Parkway to the north side, the release points out. “Motorists wishing to enter the interstate will stay in the left two lanes,” the release points out, adding, “Please follow signage and lane striping.”
During that April 2013 Sarasota-Manatee county commissions meeting, board members voiced concerns that drivers in Florida never would figure out how a diverging diamond works, but the consultants with HDR Inc. maintained that the key was paying attention to the signage.
The consultants also told the board members what FDOT reports on the project website: “This innovative design offers a proven solution for improving overall traffic operations and safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. In addition, studies of existing [diverging diamond interchanges] show a significant reduction of major crashes, an overall reduction in delay times, and an increase in overall capacity.”
FDOT has provided an instructional video on YouTube.
Along with construction of the diverging diamond interchange, the project at University Parkway includes the new bridges on I-75 over University Parkway, the widening of University Parkway, the widening of I-75 bridges over Errie Creek and Foley Creek, realignment of on-ramps and off-ramps at the I-75/University Parkway interchange, addition of ponds, drainage improvements, new lighting and signalization, construction of a noise wall on the west side of I-75, sidewalks, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, the FDOT news release says. Final completion is not expected until this fall, the release notes. For additional information, visit the project website at http://www.swflroads.com/i75/university/