BRADENTON — Far, far away, not in another galaxy, but in another decade or two, the city of North Port could see a new interchange to Interstate 75.
Local and regional government officials are planning for it now.
A new interstate exit is a big road project, but it’s just one of thousands of changes, large and small, that are mapped out in a comprehensive, long-range transportation plan released Monday.
Planning now is essential, officials say.
In just 15 years — 2035 — the population of Sarasota and Manatee counties will grow from 750,000 to more than 1.1 million permanent residents. That’s the equivalent of 35 people moving into the counties every day for the next 35 years, said Leigh Holt, strategic planning manager for the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. The population is also getting younger.
Bradenton, Sarasota and North Port will be centers for that future growth, Holt said.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization — consisting of elected officials from various jurisdictions — recommends what transportation projects to fund with the two counties’ share of state and federal gas taxes in years to come.
MPO staff and consultants introduced the board Monday to its “Transform Tomorrow” 2045 long-range plan that could see $2 billion in available funding over the 25 years. The board will be asked to approve the plan at its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 26.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MPO has seen a dip in its revenues. MPO staff may be back a year from now to adjust future revenue projections.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Right now, Raintree Boulevard is a lonely road that actually changes names to Yorkshire Street where it crosses Price Boulevard then passes under Interstate 75. But 20 to 25 years from now, it will likely lead to a busy interchange, situated between the Toledo Blade Boulevard and Kings Highway exits.
While the Raintree interchange is in the “out years” of the long-range plan, local governments can expect to make improvements to it sooner, such as four-laning it and connecting it with Veterans Boulevard, which runs along the Charlotte County-North Port line, Holt said.
She added that making those improvements would make the new interchange more palatable to federal transportation officials, who control funding for interstate highway improvements.
The MPO officials view interchange as a way to spark commercial growth in South Sarasota County.
North Port Mayor Debbie McDowell said a Raintree interchange would be “fantastic and beneficial” to both North Port and Charlotte County. The city can envision, she said, Raintree evolving into an industrial and commercial hub. It also would provide additional hurricane evacuation for Charlotte residents.
The city expects to work on a master plan next year for the area, dubbed “The Shire,” that will include the expansion of water and sewer service to the area, McDowell suggested.
“It all comes down to negotiability,” said North Port Commissioner Pete Emrich, recalling how the Raintree interchange represents a compromise between the city and Charlotte County Emrich attended Monday’s meeting remotely.
City officials had actually hoped, Yorkshire Boulevard, which passes under I-75 north of Raintree, would make a better location for a new interchange. Charlotte County wanted one closer to Kings Highway.
The city will still have to learn what improvements the MPO intends to fund and what it would expect from the city, Emrich suggested.
The interchange isn’t the only improvement for South County.
The MPO plan includes new technology for moving traffic, and even accounts for self-driving vehicles that are in development now. It also addresses alternatives to automotive transportation.
Planners factored in baseball and tourism as economic generators for the two counties. The MPO is undertaking a “Baseball Access Study.” Besides improvements to U.S. 41, the MPO intends to improve roadways that are routes to public beaches.
Motorists will soon see a four lane North River Road, Holt said. Other improvements are coming along U.S. 41 in the upcoming years. South River Road, however, isn’t planned to be expanded until the 2030s, she said.
North of Venice, Laurel Road is online to be widened. Also, improvements are planned for Venice Avenue East and the Venice Legacy/Venetian trails. Overall, the MPO envisions 65 miles of bicycle, pedestrian and similar other improvements.
To learn more about the Sarasota/Manatee MPO and its plans, visit www.mympo.org.