MPO head offers road funding solution: Make Gulf Drive a U.S. highway

Manatee-Sarasota Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Mike Howe offered a new funding solution for island mayors troubled by infrastructure costs at the monthly Island Transportation and Planning Organization Sept. 16 in Bradenton Beach.

“Does the island need to apply for federal designation of Gulf Drive?” Howe asked Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn, Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Shaughnessy. “It’s something to think about.”

If Gulf Drive became a federal highway, federal funding for improvements could become available, he said, and the Federal Highway Administration has expertise in easing traffic congestion and improving traffic flow.

And, of course, the federal government has more funding sources than local governments and the Florida Department of Transportation, said Howe.

Making Gulf Drive a federal highway does not mean the cities have to give up control over the road, he added. It would not mean four lanes in the future. “That would be something the cities would have to bring to the MPO first before consideration,” he said.

David Hutchinson of the MPO said, “It won’t take 10 years to get the designation,” Hutchinson said. He estimated Gulf Drive could become a federal highway a few years after application.

SueLynn said she’s “ready to call the federal government and talk,” and both Monti and Shaughnessy expressed interest.

“It would certainly help us,” she said. “It’s a blessing and a curse to be in our situation.” The mayor said the city must maintain public parking on beach access streets and Gulf Drive for traffic — not just city traffic — from its city treasury.

Gulf Drive is designated State Road 789 from the Longboat Pass Bridge to the Manatee Avenue-East Bay Drive intersection in Holmes Beach. Continuing north, Gulf Drive is city-owned in both Holmes Beach, and Anna Maria.

“If you apply, we’ll help as much as we can to get that designation as fast as possible,” Howe said.

In other transportation-related matters, Monti said Holmes Beach has a committee studying traffic congestion and parking problems.

He noted the Manatee County Area Transit bus that brings people from the mainland to the island is “not fitted for beachgoers.” He said people who carry coolers, chairs and other beach gear in their vehicles add to weekend and holiday traffic congestion. He suggested MCAT should allow beach gear on the buses coming to the island from the mainland to encourage ridership.

Howe said the Florida Department of Transportation is progressing on the planning, development and environmental study for Cortez Bridge. He expects that study to be completed by December, when DOT will conduct a public meeting to announce its findings.

ITPO is a chartered board under the MPO, organized to develop consensus on MPO matters prior to the monthly MPO meeting and voting by the single member appointed from Anna Maria Island’s three cities. Presently SueLynn is the seated member.

The next ITPO meeting will be at 2 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, at Bradenton Beach City Hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

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