Construction of 4-lane Lorraine Road from Clark Road to Knights Trail Road their top priority, county commissioners tell staff

Original plans called for only two lanes at outset

This aerial map shows a section of Knights Trail Road, with I-75 and Honore Avenue also visible. Image from Google Maps

Given the residential growth in South County and the expansion of Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s Venice campus, the Sarasota County commissioners have told staff that their top priority for expanding the county road network is the construction of a four-lane Lorraine Road south to Knights Trail Road in the Venice area.

Commissioners Joe Neunder and Neil Rainford stressed the importance of proceeding with the four-lane construction instead of the county’s having to add the two extra lanes at a later time, which not only would disrupt traffic flow in the affected area but also potentially could end up costing far more than the current estimate of slightly more than $5 million.

“In my neck of the woods,” Neunder said, “we refer to that [road segment] as the ‘missing link’ in traffic and arterial flow. … I would love to see that [constructed as] four lanes.”

Then Neunder pointed out, “Everybody [in that area] talks about traffic.” If the goal is to divert motorists from I-75 to Lorraine Road, he continued, “it just seems like better planning, in my view, if we could do four instead of two [lanes].”

That initiative, along with the construction of a four-lane Lorraine Road from Palmer Boulevard to Fruitville Road; the widening of Fruitville from two to four lanes from Debrecen Road to Lorraine; and the widening of Honore Avenue to four lanes between Fruitville and 17th Street will be the focus of the Public Works and Capital Projects departments, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis affirmed on May 15, during the board’s most recent budget workshop.

Based on the commission discussion that day, staff will pause plans for the widening of Proctor Road from Honore Avenue to McIntosh Road from two to four lanes, along with the widening of Cattlemen Road from two to four lanes between Packinghouse Road and Fruitville. The money saved will be dedicated to the priority initiatives.

This slide, shown to the board on May 15, provides the status of the proposed projects that were the focus of the discussion. Image courtesy Sarasota County

A slide that Spencer Anderson, director of the county’s Public Works Department, showed the commissioners on May 15 said that the design for the widened Fruitville Road from Debrecen to Lorraine is complete, with right of way acquisition in progress. Construction is expected to get underway in the 2025 fiscal year, the slide noted.

In regard to the Lorraine Road north plans: Anderson said that Fruitville Road’s level of service (LOS) in that area is an F. (The Florida Department of Transportation defined level of service in a 2014 document as “[a] quantitative stratification of the quality of service to a typical traveler [on a road] into six letter grade levels, with ‘A’ describing the highest quality and ‘F’ describing the lowest quality.”)

Thus, that four-lane Fruitville project, Anderson said, “does relieve some of the volume on that roadway segment …”

The expected start of construction on Lorraine Road from Fruitville to Palmer Road is the 2026 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1, 2025, a slide noted.

As for Lorraine Road south: That will be the new north-south county connector east of Interstate 75, Anderson pointed out, characterizing it as “a very important project,” considering the development already planned in the affected area. “We’re working directly with the property owners [on the right of way acquisition],” he added, referring to Palmer Ranch, 3H Ranch, LT Ranch and the Three Rivers Stewardship District, “and it’s coming along pretty well.”

In regard to the Lorraine Road north initiative, Anderson did note that staff will have to acquire “a little right of way next to the Founders Club,” as well as property belonging to the owners of Hi Hat Ranch. He said that discussions with representatives of both the Founders Club and Hi Hat Ranch are continuing.

In regard to the Founders Club, Anderson noted that if the negotiations were not successful, the county would have to pursue eminent domain to secure the right of way.

Referring to Chief Deputy County Attorney Karl Senkow, Anderson told the commissioners, “Karl and his team have been very good about moving that [eminent domain] process along quickly, if we do have to go that way.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Rainford, Anderson said that the LT Ranch will be adjacent to about 2 miles of Lorraine Road south. “We have that right of way secured.”

The 3H Ranch development involves approximately another 2 miles of Lorraine, Anderson continued.

Palmer Ranch’s right of way for the road will be handled through an agreement for use of impact fee revenue, he explained, which — he indicated — is a factor of past litigation.

When Rainford then asked whether the southern Lorraine Road segment could be moved up on the Public Works list as the top priority, at the commissioners’ direction, Anderson replied that both Lorraine Road projects, and the one on Fruitville Road from Debrecen to Lorraine are “all going along fairly simultaneously and independently.”

Lorraine Road south is in the design phase, Anderson noted. After that work has been completed, he said, staff would “move quickly into construction,” though he was referring just to the initial two lanes. The design should be finished in August, Anderson told Rainford.

Then, in response to a question from Chair Michael Moran, Anderson said that with all three projects proceeding, “Whichever one pops off first, we going to get to first.”

This slide offers more details about the road plans before the May 15 discussion began. Image courtesy Sarasota County

An opportunity to be prepared for residential growth

At that point, Commissioner Neunder brought up the fact that the plans for Lorraine Road south called for just two lanes from Clark Road to Knights Trail Road.

Anderson explained that the major concern is the funding.

Another slide he showed the board noted that the six projects he had referenced at the outset of the discussion — including those involving Cattlemen and Proctor roads — would cost approximately $234,676,797, based on 2023 estimates. The county would need an extra $103,654,797 to complete them.

The slide said that all but the widening of Fruitville Road from Debrecen to Lorraine would be funded through Surtax 4 revenue. That is the money produced by the extra penny of sales tax that the county has been charging, with voter approval, since 1989.

The Surtax 4 program will begin in 2025. Twenty-five percent of the revenue automatically goes to the Sarasota County School Board. The rest of it is divvied up among the county and the municipalities, based on their population counts. A minimum of 50% of the revenue the county receives has to be spent on transportation projects, including road resurfacing, as noted in the ordinances the County Commission has approved for the programs.

The Fruitville Road widening project has received $4 million from the federal government — thanks to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota — county staff has reported. Another $5.5 million of the money for that initiative will be used from the Surtax 3 program, Anderson’s slide pointed out.

Adding the two extra lanes on Lorraine Road south from Clark to Knights Trail Road has been estimated at $5,044,670. That amount was factored into the total projected cost of the six projects Anderson was discussing.

This slide breaks down the funding for the proposed projects. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Anderson also explained on May 15 that staff has been collaborating with representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on their plans for the State Road (SR) 681 interchange to connect Lorraine Road to I-75. Then Anderson added that the consultants with whom county staff has been working on the Lorraine Road projects have not found that four lanes from SR 681 to Knights Trail will be needed “for a long period of time.”

Nonetheless, he emphasized, the design work would encompass the plans for four lanes. The extra two lanes would be built later, when needed, he said.

Commissioner Rainford responded, “Five million [dollars], to me, seems like an absolute no-brainer, to make that final connection [to Knights Trail Road].” I-75, he stressed, “is a parking lot.” One accident shuts down the interstate, Rainford continued, which necessitates drivers having to take Honore Avenue.

Moreover, Rainford pointed out, if the county waited several years to construct the final two lanes on Lorraine Road south, the cost likely would end up being six times higher. “I would be totally in favor of finding a way to make that work, make it four lanes the whole way,” he told Anderson.

Commissioner Neunder thanked Rainford for his “very applicable, astute observations …”

Noting that he has lived in the affected area “for a long time,” Neunder added, “I have seen the development … If we could find the extra $5 million, it would be a very proactive, smart planning process. I would rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Neunder also indicated that, based on his conversations with contractors, the expense of the extra two lanes likely would end up far higher if those were added in the future. “I think the residents in that particular area would also be veryappreciative,” he told Anderson, if the full four lanes were constructed at the outset.

Rainford pointed out that the commissioners routinely hear complaints from the public about the failure to plan for residential growth, noting that the population has been increasing statewide, especially over the past two years. “There’s very few times we can actively build out a road system prior to the growth happening in [a specific] location,” he also stressed.

For example, he said, “There’s a wall on either side [of Jacaranda Boulevard in Venice],” which prevents its widening.

He noted the inconvenience “to everybody’s daily commute,” as well, whenever a road-widening project is underway.

“I couldn’t agree more, especially for the $5 million,” Chair Moran said.

Then Moran asked Anderson, “What would create any heartburn for you related to [proceeding with the plans for four lanes on Lorraine Road south to Knights Trail Road], if any?”

First, Anderson replied, “Everything you’re saying, I completely agree with. The challenge is [the funding],” referring to the projected $103.6-million deficit noted on the slide he had shown the board members.

He did acknowledge that the slide likely had not factored in “some developer contribution” that could be applied to the Lorraine Road south initiative. That project alone had been put at $71,632,12, with just the two lanes from Clark Road to Knights Trail Road. The deficit in available funding shown on the slide was $17,002,127.

That deficit, Anderson said, “is probably manageable,” but adding in the extra $5 million for the other two lanes brings the figure to approximately $22 million.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger noted, “It’s hard for me to imagine that the day we open [the State Road 681 interchange with Lorraine Road], it’s not going to be fully used. … I just think we need to look at this from a reality perspective. … [Four lanes of Lorraine Road south] has to be Priority No. 1,” he added. “It’s on us to figure out a way [to pay for it].”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Chair Moran said.

This map shows State Road 681. Image from Wikipedia

When Rainford asked whether the commission could direct staff to allocate more of the Surtax 4 revenue to the project, Carolyn Eastwood, director of the Capital Projects Department, replied that that is possible.

Based on the board members’ comments, Anderson said, staff would proceed with planning for the four lanes, unless the commissioners wanted to offer other direction.

County Administrator Lewis did seek clarification that the board members wanted staff to pause the Cattlemen and Proctor road projects to shift funding to the other priorities.

Moran told him that was the consensus.

Rainford then pointed out that if the board members direct staff to seek federal and state funding support for Lorraine Road construction, the focus should be on the fact that Lorraine Road is the north-south alternate to I-75. “I think you sell it as one item.”