Manatee County reversed course on plans to build a roundabout after several neighbors — and a local developer — spoke out against the decision.
A sea of residents in red shirts voiced opposition to the roundabout during Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting. Lakewood Ranch developer Rex Jensen also penned an opinion article in the East County Observer criticizing the idea.
“A signal is more favorable at this location due to unique community/intersection dynamics,” wrote Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the development company behind the master-planned Lakewood Ranch community.
The roundabout at the intersection of Lorraine Road and Players Drive would sit between two gated communities — Lakewood Ranch Country Club and Country Club East. Opponents argued that the proposed intersection improvement would create more traffic congestion, not less.
“A traffic circle, no matter how well it is proposed to be constructed or how much it’s going to cost, I predict there are going to be a lot of accidents,” Glenn Stringer, a Manatee County resident, told board members during public comment.
According to county documents, the plan to improve the intersection began with a suggestion to add traffic lights, but the project changed in December 2022. During a community meeting with neighbors in September, more than 200 people showed up in protest.
“The heaviest and largest attended meeting we’ve had … in the past year,” said Public Works Director Chad Butzow. “A lot of public involvement and a lot of passionate people on both sides.”
Manatee scraps Lakewood Ranch roundabout
A traffic signal, which is expected to cost around $2 million, would be cheaper than a roundabout. County officials say a roundabout would cost $3.3 million.
Some neighbors said they would have supported the county’s decision to spend more money on the roundabout, citing traffic studies that show how they reduce serious accidents.
“How much is a life worth? If it’s a little more of an initial investment, so be it,” said Judy Hamer, a nearby resident. “There is a reason why the roundabouts are becoming so popular.”
After about an hour of public comment and board discussion, commissioners said they agreed that a traffic signal would be the right decision for the intersection, which sits a mile and a half south of State Road 70.
“In this case, I think it’s a better fit based on finances and the current situation of the particular road,” said Commissioner Jason Bearden.
Leftover funding could go towards other traffic projects
County Administrator Charlie Bishop also noted that the money the county saves by building the traffic light will allow those additional funds to go toward other traffic improvements in Lakewood Ranch.
“We could benefit greatly by reallocating the funds to other intersections in the district,” said Bishop.
“We’re obviously not here trying to lean one way or another. Just because there’s more red shirts in the room that would swing the vote or because Rex Jensen speaks up — we’ve got to weigh everything,” added Commissioner Ray Turner, who represents Lakewood Ranch on the board.
Board members voted unanimously to build a signalized intersection at Lorraine Road and Players Drive.