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Traffic relief remains top priority among island officials

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

It was another typical day of tourist season Feb. 19 near the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road in Bradenton Beach, as motorists trying to get on and off the island jammed roadways. Islander Photo: Mark Young

‘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.

7 Responses to Traffic relief remains top priority among island officials

  1. Tim Johnson says:

    The people who rule on Anna Maria Island need to always consider this: Tourism is your “bread and butter,” and any attempt to curb that will be seen by outsiders as selfish and elitist. The key to less congestion is more parking, period!

    • James Morgan says:

      Mr Johnson you are totally incorrect with your summation. A few years ago Commisioner John Quam ran the numbers. Permanent residents were actually far more lucrative for the island than the businesses which are primarily frequented by the tourists you refer to. Those tourists benefit the businesses’s on the island and that is all. The businesses themselves are of no greater benefit to the island financially than a single family residence. A great majority of those business owners don’t even live on the island. Years ago, when the island was primarily residential it did just fine. Contrary to what some people would have you believe there was never any danger of financial collapse. And as one who lived on the island in those days by comparison to today it was simply idyllic. This constant brow beating that we needed the tourists to survive as an island is simply not true. In fact I would think we could now argue that the influx of tourism is placing an ever growing financial strain on city services and infrastructure. The residents are exiting en masse. How long before the tourists realize it’s really not a very special place anymore? As to your comment about parking. Where exactly do you think there is space to accommodate your suggestion of parking? Or are you going to suggest the city provides parking garages?

      • bonnerj says:

        It’s a shame to make such statements without any real basis in facts. Many island businesses are “island-owned,” and employ many more islanders. Businesses contribute more — they provide sales tax income to the cities. And there has never been a mention of financial collapse — only city officials who refuse to bite the bullet on spending. Meanwhile, thanks to increasing property values, the cities collect more revenue every year. Spending of increased revenue amounts to tax increases for everyone — residents and vacation property owners alike. And residents are not exiting “en masse.” Maybe your contemporaries are reaching older age and choosing to live closer to the hospital or they move back north to be near family, but The Islander reported two weeks ago that homestead residences on Anna Maria Island are NOT in decline. No matter how many people come here, until they put up the ferris wheel and the roller coaster on Gulf Drive, this place will be paradise. The beach, waterways, palm trees and sunsets don’t change… attitudes do. — Bonner Joy

        • James Morgan says:

          You may want to contact John Quam as he did the figures. As to property prices I suggest you examine that too. Property values are not even back at 2006 levels. I in fact believe, that the tourism is eroding our property values. Due to the number of rentals house values are now linked to that rental figure. The days of getting a premium for living on an exclusive barrier island albeit on a tiny lot are long gone. Your value now is roughly ten times your annual rent. Considerably less than we could have achieved many years ago. Ask any realtor and they will tell you the demand for real estate on the island is almost exclusively now coming from investors.
          And no ‘my contemporaries’ are actually moving just off the island so as to avoid living in a resort.
          As to homesteading maybe I misunderstood when I read the concern over the last few years about the decline in primary residences. The numerous people I know who have moved off the island in the last 12 months have all sold their primary residences to investors who planned to rent out these homes. Very hard to see how this is not being revealed in any data.
          Paradise? It’s all relative. If you saw the island 15 years ago then no it is no longer paradise. However, I agree if you are coming here for the first time and seeing it then maybe.

  2. Patrick says:

    I bought here four years ago knowing the traffic. It is what it is.

    The beach is still a rarefied commodity in a world full of dry land. People want to come here. That will never change.

    The traffic should surprise nobody. It’s clearly been around forever. Whatever changes are happening – the longer season, for instance – are not surprising, either. It’s all predictable. The more people who learn about us, the more people who will come here. More are finding out how nice it is in the summer…so don’t be surprised when the summer traffic also grows.

    We don’t need more garages, more parking or more public transport. The island has a capacity and those that get here too late in the day will just have to turn around and go elsewhere. No need for us to expend extraordinary effort for something that is quite normal.

    If you live here, then you probably visited a few times before buying into the island. Now you come here and want to ‘lift the drawbridge’ to keep them away.

    My overall point is that nobody here has a right to be surprised. Visitors and residents alike know the issues. You knew it when you got here. It’s like someone building a house near a farm because they “love farm country”, and then later complaining about the animals next door (I have this issue in my second home). It makes no sense to change your view just because you now live on the other side of the bridge.

    People who live at the beach have choices. We don’t have to be here. You have to take the good with the bad. You signed up for this. Stop whining.

  3. FL Native says:

    It’s attitudes like yours that have contributed to the “panning over” of the state of FL. A native 70-year-old Floridian, Anna Maria has been a part of my life for 57 years, and we moved here 12 years ago. The quaintness and peaceful surroundings we so looked forward to enjoying the remainder of our lives has been sucked out of the city. Tolerating seasona situations has always been a part of life here. Not being able to get from point A to B, and losing long-time acquaintances fed up with the “rowdies” hasn’t.

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