‘If you are in a hurry, you are on the wrong island.’ — Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon
The best way to alleviate traffic problems in tourist season may be for everyone to stay home.
Attempts to relieve congestion on Anna Maria Island roads and bridges may elude motorists trying to get from point A to point B, as the island continues to witness record-setting tourism.
Discussion at the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting Feb. 19 centered on traffic problems.
Each of the three island cities is taking an approach to its problems with Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach still talking out solutions, taking little to no action. Holmes Beach formed a committee that brought forth varied ideas, including a parking garage at Manatee Public Beach.
In developing an approach to the problem, some alternate parking for beachgoers at businesses, churches and the library in Holmes Beach is being sought, and city leaders also are hoping Manatee County officials will increase park-and-ride options, as well as provide water taxis.
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said a partnership with the county is key.
“We would love to work together as three cities to decrease congestion and the flow of traffic, we just don’t have the means to do that,” she said. “None of us have the traffic experts. We are hopeful we can do something, but we are a finite space with more and more people coming into it.”
Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said he has been in communication with the county’s traffic operations about adjusting the timing of traffic lights at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and 75th Street in Bradenton, as well as the light at 119th Street West and Cortez Road.
Chappie said the Cortez light has been the subject of a lot of complaints and he is checking to see if the county can make some adjustments, which he said won’t solve any problems, but could ease traffic flow.
Chappie also said the camera system in Holmes Beach that monitors the Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive intersection does not have a live feed to the county’s traffic operations, nor does the county have the ability to remote control the light to adjust to traffic flow.
“It’s a money issue,” he said. “It’s just a recorder.”
SueLynn suggested placing Holmes Beach police officers at the intersection to supervise the flow of traffic, but Chappie said that would interfere with the established grid of traffic lights designed to keep up the flow in other areas.
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Jack Clarke suggested limiting commercial traffic to hours that do not conflict with the typical “rush hours” of tourist traffic.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that would not be feasible, but she understands the effort being put forth by the cities.
“I understand why you are doing this, but it’s three months,” she said. “It’s February through April. We all know that.”
Clarke said it was just a suggestion, and pointed out traffic problems have a long history on the island.
“I researched the first edition of the island newspaper in 1962 and it talked about traffic,” he said. “I’ve only been here nine years and I do know from those nine Fourth of Julys, and now the last two in particular, that’s it’s getting worse.”
Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen agreed, saying that “season” appears to be getting much longer than the three months Whitmore noted.
Bradenton Beach Commissioner Janie Robertson said it’s only going to get worse with all of the events taking place on the mainland.
“Statistics show that 97 percent of people who visit Manatee County visit the beach at least once,” she said. “With these mega events taking place that are drawing tens of thousands of people, it’s going to need mass transit from those events to the beach.”
Whitmore said the county is working hard to encourage more development of hotels and that when a major event is planned, such as a sporting event, “The hotels are required to provide transportation for those guests to and from the island.”
While efforts continue, and proposals such as adding park-and-ride options, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon summed up the overall tone of the meeting.
“If you are in a hurry, you are on the wrong island,” he said.