Lakewood Ranch has grown a lot in a few short years from cow pastures and farms to a vibrant Master Planned Community. The challenge of meeting the needs of schools, roads and parks was not easy in the past and will always be a challenge in the future as we grow.
Serving as your County Commissioner, I am committed to insuring we do our best to provide the infrastructure needed to support such growth. Many people may not be aware of the amount of effort I put into this commitment. Below is a summary of those efforts
Lakewood Ranch High School and Park
Lakewood Ranch High School and Park is an example of a partnership between the developer, the Manatee County School Board, and Manatee County Government. I am proud to have been the person who championed this community asset. The initial plan was for a High School and a local park on only 17 acres of land absent of any road plans for the school site. I initiated the meeting between John Clarke, the CEO of Shroeder Manatee Development ,(SMR), and Joe Miller, then School Board member. We met at the offices of SMR located on Lorraine Road. My goal was to strike a deal to accomodate the high school site, along with a regional park of 100 acres. We were staring over an aerial photo when I put my finger on a sod farm west of the school location and asked John Clarke how many acres were there? He told me there were around 100 acres. I told him that was the location I wanted for the park. Since he was in the sod business, I also asked if he would consider building the soccer fields for us, and donate this to the County?" John countered that if the County built Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, he would donate the land and build the soccer fields.
We now needed to find the money for this road. There were no houses built yet so there were'nt any impact fees. I suggested that if we took the monies targeted for a 75th Street project ,which really was not warranted, we could use that money for the Lakewood Ranch Boulevard project. I then convinced a majority of Commissioners to agree to this suggestion, thereby creating the first joint agreement between a developer, the School Board, and the County . This agreement, providing for shared uses between the high school and the regional park, a donated park site of over 100 acres, creation of soccer fields along with a needed road between SR70 and SR64. This entire connection almost didn't happen when some of the Board of County Commissioners did not feel this was necessary. However, I became adamant that this would be needed, especially with the growth that was being approved.
Today I stand proud of helping put together this agreement which proved so beneficial to our community. The synergy created by the park and high school are evident with the addition of the YMCA, Lake Erie Medical College, and Manatee Technical Institute.
This vision for meeting the needs of growth in 1992 was realized, thanks to a small meeting with SMR’s John Clarke, School Board member, Joe Miller, and myself. I thank them both for their cooperation in providing a great resource for our Community.
As a County Commissioner elected county-wide, I have focused one of my county-wide efforts on roads. Having set several goals for targeting the monies needed for State Roads in the growing parts of eastern Manatee County. I wanted to seek the completion of SR70, SR64, and create another North South connection across the Manatee River. It is important that our local traffic does not have to rely on I-75.
In an effort to advance SR 64,I convinced the State to reallocate money from a US41 project at 30 Avenue that the Board decided not to go forward due to the Federal rules increasing the cost of this project. The State wanted to transfer the money to an existing Cortez Road project. I made my argument that this was not acceptable and that we needed to start the PD&E for SR64 from I-75 to Lorraine Rd. They finally agreed to allow the $1.7 million to be transferred. The PD& E the first step to get federal dollars and was critical as SR64 received money for consruction.
The investment for these roads totals over $100 million, and came from mainly gas taxes and skyway toll revenue sharing, and not from impact fees. This is more than any other section of the County because of the tremendous need to support the growth that was planned.
The perception some people have created is that the Lakewood Ranch area did not receive its fair share of transportation dollars, which is not accurate. The Commission in the past has targeted State and Federal dollars, which could have been used in other parts of the County. The Commissioners worked hard to provide roads for the County’s growth out East that some could argue the developer should have paid the costs. Below is a summary of that effort and investment which support an important part of our community.
US 301 to I-75 - This project was stuck in a "work program" and was not moving forward. I asked the District Secretary of Transportation how this project could be moved forward. He advised that if the monies for Right of Way were advanced, it would become a priority for funding. I then requested the other commissioners to advance these dollars, which finally moved the project forward. Having been originally slated as four lanes and, knowing what turmoil road construction creates, the Board directed this be a six lane project thereby saving money and aggravation of another road project in the future. The County advanced around $12 million to make this happen.
Loraine Rd. to LWR Blvd. - This project was funded through a grant applied for cooperatively between SMR with John Clarke as the CEO and Manatee County. Having advanced these dollars to the State, Manatee County is being repaid the almost $7 million owed. The timing was controlled by the State, which is the reason this section was completed before the LWR to I-75 connection.
LWR Blvd. To I-75 - This project also demonstrated the cooperation between SMR, under John Clarke’s leadership. Because of SMR's agreement to accept storm water, the County was able to save Right of Way costs. This expedited the construction while saving money.
Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
Driven by the construction of LWR high school, I was able to fight for the completion of Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from SR70 through SR64. The original proposal was to have this road run from SR70 and dead end at the hight school. This made no sense to me. It also put local trips, including those made by the school buses, onto I-75. Luckily I won the argument for the complete section, making this road a model of cooperation and serving the needs created by growth.
I-75 to Lena Rd. - This is another County first. When US Homes was required to build this section of road it was slated to be only four lanes wide. I suggested enlarging it to six lanes in order to save money and driver aggravation over another road project. I asked for something we had never done before. Typically we can only advance money in what is called the "5 year Transportation Infrastructure Plan" (TIP) . Since this section was not in the TIP, we utilized a special provision to advance money outside the TIP. The amount was $800,000. This allowed the County to work out an agreement with the developer, US Homes, to construct all 6 lanes instead of the 4 they were required to complete.
Lena to LWR Blvd. - I tried my best to get this section built when US Homes did thier part, but could not muster enough votes. Today I am glad to say it is finally constructed. The County had advanced over $27 million to complete this section. The Commission held up development approvals for several projects because this road did not have the capacity for any more traffic. The developers were not happy, but it was the right decision. The road wascompleted in 2009 as a six lane roadway and will provide East County the ability to receive future development approvals without violating our standards.
LWR Blvd. To Lorraine Rd. - This segment was completed in 2008. Another expensive road at a cost of around $30 million. The timing was controlled by the State and is the reason it was completed before Lena to LWR.
The Ft. Hamer Bridge - This bridge has been held up for over 12 years by a Federal entanglement called an EIS( Environmental Impact Study). If the bridge is not built, our roads standards could prevent additional growth and loss of jobs. Currently I-75 can not handle the increase number of North- South trips generated by new growth. As a matter of record I-75 is over capacity now. There is opposition to this bridge, because some say that Rye bridge could be used. Rye bridge exists now and does not attract trips. If growth continues the Ft. Hamer bridge will be needed. This is why the County Commission has continued to focus on completing this bridge. I have made a committment to insure the connecting roads are up to standards prior to the opening of the bridge.
If you are still reading this I want to thank you. As you can see, I have devoted a lot of my energies as a Commissioner making sure that roads were completed and meeting the needs of growth. This is just a focus on the Lakewood Ranch area. There is still more to be done.
The County has developed a Long Range Plan for roads. My goal is to also provide a business plan for these roads. You can help! We need to have community participation to evaluate the needs, the cost associated with these needs and agree on the revenue source used for the costs. The County is completing an impact fee study due the last half of 2008 which will guide us with this road plan. I plan to lead community forums in order to gather input from all parts of the community. I look forward to providing this leadership as I have in the past to insure our road needs are met. I would welcome your participation.
In closing, thank you for allowing me to serve as a County Commissioner, and I would appreciate your vote for County Commissioner District 7.