One bridge will serve as the I-75 northbound off-ramp and the other for the I-75 southbound on-ramp.
(Florida DOT photo)
Drivers traveling the I-75 interchange at U.S. 301 can soon look forward to a vastly improved traveling experience. A $145 million project is slated for completion in early 2025 and is expected to make the drive on the interchange safer, quicker and overall, easier.
The project involves building two new bridges over the Manatee River, converting the existing U.S. 301 interchange from a partial cloverleaf to a diamond design, replacing and widening the interstate entrance and exit ramps, and widening I-75 to provide an auxiliary lane from SR 64 to the new on and off ramps.
"This is a very congested, very busy area with a lot of new development — industrial, residential and commercial," said Brian Bollas, district one spokesman of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
Under the existing interchange, drivers traveling northbound to get on U.S. 301 would find the highway backed onto the main travel lane of the I-75.
"This will really free up that situation," Bollas said. "People will see greater flow along the Interstate. With the old cloverleaf, it was unsafe as people getting off were merging with people getting on. That caused accidents, congestion. By eliminating those loop ramps and eliminating the weaving motions, that will improve safety over the whole interchange."
Adding the auxiliary lane will allow drivers traveling only one or two exits to stay on the Interstate rather than having to use the off ramps.
"That helps the flow of the people going longer distances," Bollas said. "It almost artificially separates the long and short one or two exit trips."
Ajax-Leware joint venture construction crews are building the two new 3,000-ft. bridges in place. One bridge will serve as the I-75 northbound off-ramp and the other for the I-75 southbound on-ramp.
"They are building them in segments, pile driving for original piers, seal slabs and footers, then moving on with the pile driving for the next consecutive piers," Bollas said. "After that is done, they will come back with decking as separate job. Of course, building two bridges over tidally influenced brackish water, that's a challenge. There's varying depths and concerns about sink holes."
In addition to the two interstate bridges, the project includes widening two existing bridges over areas of significant saltmarsh.
The project team is coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD, pronounced as "swiftmud") for work over the mangroves and saltmarsh areas.
"We are looking to see if there are any manatees or species of concern," Bollas said. "If so, we halt work immediately. So far, there haven't been any manatee sightings. But in colder temperatures, sometimes the manatees will swim upriver to find warm water. With that kind of habitat, we also have bald eagles and osprey. Environmental stewardship is very important to the state."
Other challenges to the project include the weather, especially during the summer where thunderstorms are a daily occurrence. Two hurricanes have delayed the work schedule, pushing the original completion date back from late 2024 to early 2025.
The winter season brings its own challenges with the "snowbird population," Bollas said. "Traffic counts really go up in snowbird season — Thanksgiving to Easter. We're trying to plan certain activities not to interfere with the traveling public. There are a lot of businesses to the east side. We tried to make sure we didn't do any work in front of the outlet mall during busy outlet mall times. There are all sorts of little challenges but nothing we don't have a plan for."
• I-75 southbound bridge over Salt Marsh: 1,140 ft.
• I-75 northbound bridge over Salt Marsh: 1,560 ft.
• I-75 southbound bridge over Manatee River: 3,390 ft.
• I-75 northbound bridge over Manatee River: 3,421 ft.
Equipment on the project, which will fluctuate as crews focus on bridges or interchange/roadway, include:
• barges — four
• 225-ton American cranes — five
• 165-ton American cranes — one
• 100-ton American cranes — five
• 50-ton American cranes — two
• Komatsu loaders — three
• Komatsu excavators — two
• Pile hammers — four
• J&M vibratory hammer — four
• APE rock drill — three
• Boats/tugs — nine
• Kenworth Scorpion C-90 attenuator truck
• Peterbuilt 587 dump truck
• Lowboy trailer 2-axle 4-tire 20-ft.
• Trail King flowboy trailer
• Doosan DX140LCR-3 excavator
• Komatsu PC55MR-5 excavator
• Bobcat S750 skid steer CEG
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