Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

With Few Alternatives, I-75 Gridlock Is Inevitable

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

With Few Alternatives, I-75 Gridlock Is Inevitable

Article excerpt

Stuck in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, drivers cursed another wreck Wednesday that shut down northbound Interstate 75 at a major Sarasota County intersection.

But complain all they might, drivers should get used to it, experts say.

As more drivers pack onto Interstate 75 and use it as a local road, major accidents can be expected to continue to bring traffic on what is intended to be an expressway to an aggravating crawl.

A shortage of north-south alternatives on both sides of the highway aggravates those backups even more as it takes literally hours for the congestion to slacken -- costing unknown amounts of dollars in wasted time and delayed deliveries of goods and services.

"There is a lot of local traffic (on I-75), absolutely," said Robin Stublen, spokesman for the Florida Department of Transportation. "There is a lot of burden on local roads. ... There is a lot of burden on everybody."

What is occurring on I-75 in Sarasota and Manatee counties should come as no surprise given the growth that continues to affect it, transportation planners say.

"That's not atypical where you have development patterns," said Michael Howe, executive director of the Sarasota Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. "It happens in a lot of our major cities. If you build it, they will come."

From Parrish to Venice, local governments continue to approve residential developments east of I-75. Interchanges continue to expand as commercial hubs. And traffic counts indicate more and more commuters using I-75 for short distances.

The situation is likely to worsen before it can get better -- if it can get appreciably better.

Few alternatives exist for north-south traffic:

U.S. 41, which follows the length of both counties and connects the dots that are downtowns.

U.S. 301, with access from the I-75 exit in Ellenton and leading into downtown Bradenton and Sarasota.

Honore Avenue, from Lockwood Ridge Road in Manatee to State Road 681 in Osprey and eventually to be extended to Laurel Road.

Cattlemen Road, recently extended north from Fruitville Road to University Parkway.

Yet those alternate routes have limitations.

Older stretches of Honore are narrow and geared toward slower traffic through long-standing residential neighborhoods.

Roundabouts added or to be added to all of those arterials are intended to slow traffic but also keep it flowing. They include "truck aprons" to provide enough space for semis to negotiate the turns but hardly make the roads ideal express routes for truckers on long hauls.

A few changes in the works could provide some potential relief on I-75.

Larry Bustle, chairman of the Manatee County Commission and MPO board, said the county's upcoming construction of the Fort Hamer Bridge over the Manatee River "will provide another north-south thoroughfare."

Commuters from Parrish headed into Bradenton or Lakewood Ranch now add to the local traffic on I-75, Bustle said. …

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