2017 Sarasota County transportation priority list approved for Sarasota/Manatee MPO

Three new projects added: Lakewood Ranch overpass of I-75; Iona Road expansion; and roundabout at Cattlemen and Richardson roads

Paula Wiggins. File photo

With only one question from a board member — regarding a project planned for the City of Venice — the Sarasota County Commission this week unanimously approved the county’s list of state and federal transportation program priorities for adoption by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Commissioner Nancy Detert posed the question to Paula Wiggins, the county’s transportation planning manager. Why was a project involving improvements to the intersection of Pinebrook Road and East Venice Avenue ranked No. 10 on the 2017 list?

Wiggins responded that the plan calls for the addition of turn lanes and other improvements, including some at the intersection of Ridgewood Avenue and Pinebrook Road.

“That’s pretty high up on the priority list,” Detert responded. “I live there, and it doesn’t seem to be that big a problem.”

Wiggins explained that the City of Venice had requested the project.

“They feel this is a high priority?” Detert asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Wiggins said.

“OK,” Detert replied.

Because of new federal requirements for the submission of project requests — as Leigh Holt, the MPO’s planning manager had explained — all 18 of the county’s projects had to be submitted in one list. The new ones added to those remaining from 2016 are the planned overpass of Interstate 75 from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road; an extension of Iona Road from Fruitville Road to Palmer Boulevard; and the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Cattlemen Road and Richardson Road, Wiggins noted. The expense of the roundabout is estimated at $2,729,000, while the Iona Road project is expected to cost $7.5 million, according to material Wiggins provided to the commission.

A graphic shows the proposed location of the overpass of I-75 from Lakewood Ranch Boulevard to Cattlemen Road. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The overpass project, she reminded the board members, is a facet of an agreement with the state and Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch.

County staff also will submit the Iona Road and roundabout projects to the state in an effort to gain funding for them through the Transportation Regional Incentive Program (TRIP), which necessitates a 50% local match. The other project for which the county will seek TRIP funds is the widening of River Road to four lanes from U.S. 41 to West Villages Parkway; that is estimated at $5 million. That River Road project also is the top 2017 priority on the county’s MPO list, with two other River Road segments in second and third places.

No. 2 calls for the widening of the road to four lanes from West Villages Parkway to Center Road. No. 3 entails widening River Road to four lanes form Center Road to I-75.

This is the 2017 Sarasota County priority list for the MPO. Image courtesy Sarasota County

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, introduced a bill in the Florida House this year seeking $43.2 million for the remaining River Road projects, at the request of the County Commission. During a mid-March hearing, the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee amended the bill to reduce the figure to $2.4 million, and then the subcommittee adopted the bill without objection, House records show. The bill had its first reading on March 16 in the House Appropriations Committee.

The accompanying House documentation explained that the “River Road Regional Interstate Connector is a 13.5-mile segment from [State Road] 76 in Charlotte County to I-75 in Sarasota County. It is the primary hurricane evacuation route for Cape Haze Peninsula, including Sarasota County, Charlotte County, and the City of North Port.” The expense of design and permitting was put at $1.2 million, with $42 million for right of way acquisition, design/permit modifications and construction.

Federal requirements

A chart shows factors that must be considered in the MPO’s ranking of transportation projects. Image courtesy MPO

During her presentation to the commission on March 21, Holt of the MPO explained that the role of the organization “is to coordinate transportation plans across jurisdictions because, basically, the public doesn’t care where the county ends and the city begins. They just want to get there. That is our role, to help facilitate that.”

Referring to federal laws signed in 2012 and 2015, she continued, the MPO has become responsible not just for roads but for economic growth, global competitiveness, safety and security, travel and tourism, environmental sustainability, “and sometimes, I think, world peace.”

Wiggins and her staff had spent seven months studying the new laws and how they should be applied to MPO projects, Holt noted. In accord with the goals and performance measures the laws require, Holt added, the MPO has to consider, for example, whether a project has been proposed in a high-crash location, whether it will improve traffic flow on an evacuation route, whether it will include bike lanes and sidewalks, or whether it will address flooding or stormwater issues.

“The bottom line,” she said, is “we are asking you to prioritize your projects in a little bit different way.”