Work on Lorraine Road segments south of Clark Road moving forward with approximately $16.1 million allocation from County Commission

Final alignment of roadway to Knights Trail Road wins approval

On unanimous votes, the Sarasota County Commission has approved the proposed alignment of Lorraine Road from south of Clark Road to Knights Trail Road in Venice and authorized the expenditure of approximately $16.1 million for design and construction work, including a sidewalk along Honore Avenue in the project area.

Two lanes of a 1.38-mile segment south of Clark Road already has been completed, and the developer collaborating with the county on that stretch — Taylor Morrison, which is building Skye Ranch on land formerly known as the LT Ranch — is extending that segment for a total length of 1.95 miles, county Public Works Director Spencer Anderson told the commissioners on March 7.

(Taylor Morrison notes on its website for Skye Ranch that the development is located at the intersection of Clark and Lorraine roads.)

Lorraine Road will be designed as a four-lane route to Knights Trail Road, Anderson said. However, he said, four lanes initially would be constructed only from Clark Road to the easterly extension of State Road 681, as the traffic volume projection does not warrant four lanes from SR 681 all the way south to Knights Trail Road.

When Chair Ron Cutsinger asked Anderson how soon county staff believes the construction of the rest of Lorraine Road can begin, Anderson told him that if the design work is completed by the end of 2024, as staff expects, “Construction would start right away, potentially.”

Therefore, Anderson added, it is possible that, by 2028, the connection between Clark Road and Knights Trail Road would be finished.

“It took me 90 minutes to get up to [the downtown Sarasota Administration Center from Englewood] yesterday,” Cutsinger said.

Lorraine Road will be “a significant alternative to the interstate,” Anderson responded.

“This is a very needed project,” added Commissioner Joe Neunder, who lives in Osprey.

Commissioner Mark Smith expressed agreement with Neunder.

In making the motions staff had recommended, Commissioner Michael Moran noted that Commissioner Nancy Detert in the past had joked, “How do you have gridlock when you don’t have a grid?” Even though it was a joke, Moran said, “It was true.”

The commissioners made the decision to get the grid completed “as fast as humanly possible,” Moran continued.

Then Detert pointed out that county residents years ago thought that “Honore Avenue [after its widening to the south] would be the relief for being stuck on [Interstate]-75.” Having tried every north-south route herself, she continued, she has found that it still takes her about 80 minutes to drive from her Venice home to downtown Sarasota. “To have another option … should take some of the stress off I-75.”

Local traffic is using I-75,” Cutsinger stressed. The previous day, he said, “There was a minor fender-bender [on the interstate], “so it was a parking lot all the way up [to the County Administration Center in downtown Sarasota].”

Both Cutsinger and Moran commended Anderson for all of his efforts to get the plans in place for the Lorraine Road extension.

During his March 7 presentation to the commissioners, Anderson noted that, on March 9, 2021, the commissioners approved interlocal agreements with The Lakes of Sarasota Community Development District and Palmer Ranch for the completion of corridor studies related to the extension of Lorraine Road to the Venice area.

A third agreement, which was inked between LT Ranch and the county, involves the portion of Lorraine Road that will serve Skye Ranch, Anderson said.

In working to determine the best route for the extension of Lorraine Road, he continued, one goal was to ensure the least impact on environmentally sensitive lands, while another was to figure out the most cost-effective alignments. The study also analyzed what mitigation that would be needed for crossing floodplains, Anderson pointed out.

Commissioner Smith did ask Anderson about wildlife corridors along the planned new stretches of Lorraine Road.

“We’re going through a lot of undeveloped territory,” Smith said. Will overpasses be needed for animals, he asked.

“We have built those in the past,” Anderson responded. Sometimes, Anderson continued, box culverts will work as well. “Where we find that those are necessary … certainly, those will be incorporated into the design effort,” he added.

Further, Anderson explained, the decision was made to divide the corridor analysis into two sections: the northern part, which focused on “everything north of the Palmer Ranch property,” and, for the second section, everything south of that.

Details about the options

For the northern segment, Anderson told the commissioners, the county’s consultant came up with four options. The top alternative — No. 3 — is expected to cost $24.6 million, as noted in a slide that Anderson showed the commissioners. The length of that segment would be 15,871 feet.

The property owners who are helping pay for the road liked that option best, Anderson told the commissioners.

The most significant difference between Alternatives 2 and 3 is the way the route would be designed around an environmental feature, he explained.

Alternative 2 had an associated expense of $23.9 million for 15,402 feet.

For the southern portion of Lorraine Road, Anderson continued, Option 4 was the preferred alternative. With a length of 18,826 feet, its expense has been put at $31.9 million. That one “swings the roadway alignment farther to the south,” he said.

Options 1, 2 and 3 “would have resulted in a more significant environmental impact,” Anderson pointed out.

Segment A of the Lorraine Road extension, which encompasses “roughly 2 miles south of Clark Road,” encompasses not only the 1.38-mile segment that Taylor Morrison has built — which can be widened to four lanes — but also another 0.57 miles under construction in a two-lane design, Anderson said.

That roadway segment is anticipated to be completed in 2024, he told the commissioners.

Thus, Anderson explained, one of the items for commission consideration that day was an agreement with LT Ranch that would fund construction of the other two lanes of the 1.95 miles of roadway immediately south of Clark Road. The expense he added, is $9,956,335.80. “We feel like that is a good value for the county,” Anderson said, “and are excited to move forward and have this first 2 miles of the roadway constructed and in service.”

Segment B of Lorraine Road would encompass 2.42 miles, he continued. Only the design and permitting were the focus of that part of the project at this time, Anderson said. The expense for that work is $2,395,000, he added. Ultimately, he pointed out, that segment would have four travel lanes, too.

Segment C, which comprises 2.59 miles, is owned by Palmer Ranch, Anderson noted. The county owns the remaining 0.98-mile segment from the end of the Palmer Ranch stretch to Knights Trail Road, he said. The agreement with Palmer Ranch involving its segment also would be for design and permitting only, he noted, at an expense of $3,635,625.

Segments A and B primarily would be funded through county mobility fee revenue, Anderson pointed out. Funding for Segment C would include $1.5 million in county mobility fees collected in the City of Venice, he said. Venice leaders had agreed that the project is a regional one, he explained, which would benefit their community.

Then Anderson addressed what he described as “a slight oddity” related to the Palmer Ranch segment. For the sake of convenience, he said, the Palmer Ranch agreement includes funding for approximately 1,500 feet of a 5-foot-wide sidewalk along Honore Avenue just south of Central Sarasota Parkway and north of Bay Street. (The expense of that project is $120,00). Numerous residents and property owners have requested that sidewalk, Anderson pointed out, especially given plans for the opening of a new Publix supermarket in that area.

All of these agreements, he explained, “are reimbursement agreements.” That means that the developers will have to provide county staff invoices for their construction expenses, and then staff will ensure that the invoices comply with county guidelines for repayment.

The design, permitting and right of way acquisition for the 5.99 miles of Lorraine Road involving the Lakes of Sarasota and Palmer Ranch should be finished in 2024, Anderson said. In 2025, he added, he expects staff to bring the commissioners a proposed contract for the construction of that stretch of Lorraine Road.