Controlled chaos – With New UTC mall opening soon, the potential traffic in the area can only be described as SNARLED
by: Pam Eubanks via The Observer
When Todd Mathes drove to work one day last week, there were three traffic-stoppers: a broken-down car on northbound Interstate 75 near University Parkway; an accident at Honore Avenue and University; and another accident at I-75 near Fruitville Road.
Mathes, director of development for Benderson Development, co-developer of The Mall at University Town Center, knows more traffic mayhem is coming as he, local officials and partners at mall co-developer Taubman Centers prepare for an estimated 100,000 shoppers on the mall’s opening day, Oct. 16.
Mathes pushes a 40-page transportation plan across the table; it’s battle-ready, although it could still be fine-tuned over the next week.
“It’s controlled chaos,” Mathes said. “The busiest time in the mall’s life is its grand opening.”
The plan in place — should drivers heed suggestions — should facilitate a best-case scenario for moving traffic to and from the mall’s 4,100 parking spaces on opening day and the three days thereafter.
Sarasota and Manatee County transportation officials, the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Transportation and local sheriff’s offices have jointly worked on the plan since their kickoff meeting this summer.
“I think it’s going to work great,” Mathes says of the plan. “The big question is how much traffic is diverted like we hope? I think we have a good plan to respond.”
Mathes says whether drivers take suggested alternative routes to the mall will have a significant impact on traffic along University Parkway and I-75, in particular.
Officials hope to direct northbound mall-bound vehicles from Fruitville Road to Cattlemen Road and from University Parkway to Honore Avenue and then Desoto Road, rather than drivers taking I-75 to the University Parkway exit.
Own this piece of property right by the new UTC mall and watch as traffic BOOMS! Suggested routes are listed on the mall’s website and also will be advertised in local newspapers. Signs strategically placed on nearby roadways in both Sarasota and Manatee counties also will suggest alternative routes.
“It’s educating the driver in advance of the mall opening and signage to remind them to take alternative routes,” Mathes said. “Our struggle is to get people to use those alternatives. People are creatures of habit.”
Sarasota County will spearhead efforts to educate the public on alternative route options, temporary vehicle and pedestrian restrictions and other pertinent information.
Mathes said Benderson and Taubman have invested close to $500,000 to help ensure traffic flows as smoothly as possible during the mall’s opening weekend. The cost includes the hiring of a traffic engineering consultant, off-duty law enforcement to direct traffic, security personnel, barricades and signage and the construction of a temporary 1,000-vehicle overflow parking lot, primarily intended for mall employees.
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