Traffic back-ups on Manatee Avenue West/State Road 64 near the Anna Maria Island Bridge are common when the draw goes up or during a holiday weekend, but traffic backed up to downtown Bradenton is a rarity. Islander File Photo
Maybe a Good Samaritan will send the Florida Highway Patrol the Dale Carnegie book, “How to
Win Friends and Influence People.”
The FHP didn’t win many friends May 24 at the start of the Memorial Day holiday.
An FHP traffic stop in the west-bound lane of the Palma Sola Causeway, also known as Manatee Avenue/State Road 64, the morning of May 24, backed up traffic into downtown Bradenton.
FHP officers were checking for seat-belt usage by vehicle drivers and passengers, FHP spokesman Lt. Doug Bueno said.
Bueno said it wasn’t a checkpoint, but an “inspection for use of life-saving seatbelts.” Florida law requires drivers, front-seat passengers and anyone under age 18 to wear a seat belt.
About 10 FHP vehicles and an estimated 20 FHP officers and FHP auxiliary were on hand.
Vehicles were stopped for an inspection that also included checking for auto registration, insurance papers and a valid driver’s license, Bueno said.
According to Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn and others, traffic backed up into downtown Bradenton because of the FHP roadblock.
She said the operation was a fiasco, and was not happy that local law enforcement and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office were not notified.
“We were getting calls from people asking us what’s going on and we didn’t know anything,” she said. “We heard the backup was chaotic.”
Some who were driving to the island that morning – the start of the Memorial Day holiday weekend – said the ensuing backup of traffic caused by the FHP resulted in a trip of two hours or more that typically would be about 10-20 minutes.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, whose city bore the brunt of telephone complaints about the backup, said it “would have been nice if the FHP had called me in advance so I could have gotten the word out to residents of what to expect that Saturday. But I never heard anything about it. Everyone was shocked. Thanks, FHP.”
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale was adamant that he had no advance warning, but should have.
“No we were not told of any roadblocks on Manatee Avenue on Saturday. I found out from people asking if it was a bad wreck or possibly a DUI checkpoint. Great timing,” Speciale said.
Sgt. Paul Davis of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Anna Maria sub-station also said he had no early notice of the FHP operation.
“The day would have gone smoother if we had been given advance notice,” he said.
SueLynn was more vocal than Davis.
She said the FHP picked that day, knowing there would be a lot of traffic because of the holiday, and FHP didn’t appear to care about the backup it caused.
“The FHP didn’t get the complaints, we did,” the mayor said. Some complained so much about wasting time sitting in a car headed to the beach, they said they would never come here again, she said.
Bueno said the FHP sometimes issues notices about planned operations in an area to its local troop commanders 10 days in advance. The troop commanders then notify local law enforcement of operations in their areas.
“Nobody called me,” Tokajer said. “It would have been nice had they done so.”
Davis also did not get a call from the Manatee County FHP, but said the FHP and MCSO often cooperate on an inter-agency basis. He did not want to say anything to jeopardize that cooperation and declined further comment. He agreed that traffic headed to the island on Manatee Avenue that morning was “a bit chaotic.”
SueLynn said she would write to the local and district FHP commanders asking for an explanation of why island law enforcement agencies were not notified.
“I heard traffic was backed up in Bradenton past 34th Street and further into the downtown area. I’m not real happy right now,” she said.
Bueno said he did not know why a notice from local FHP commanders to Manatee County law enforcement officials did not happen, but noted the inspection operated only from 8 a.m.-11 a.m.
When the FHP on-site commander saw the backup on Manatee Avenue, he halted the operation, Bueno said.
He also said he would attempt to find out why no local notice was given.
Fifteen tickets were written for seat-belt violations out of 31 tickets issued, Bueno said. Other tickets were for excessive window tinting, failure to have valid insurance or driver’s license, or out-of-date license tag. Twenty-one warnings also were issued, Bueno said.
“Last week was buckle-up week statewide, so FHP troops were conducting checks of vehicles to ensure compliance with the seat belt law,” Bueno said.
He had no explanation why the causeway site was chosen for the operation, but SueLynn said a better description for a “site” might have been “choke point” because it certainly choked off traffic trying to reach the island.
She said it was frustrating not having answers when people called her about the backup. “And we’re supposed to work together,” she said.
“We had nothing to do with this and knew nothing in advance,” she said, with emphasis.
Bueno said he did not know if the FHP planned a similar operation for the July 4 holiday. Local law enforcement agencies don’t receive advance notice of every FHP operation, he said.
Previous check points and inspections on the causeway also were without prior notice to the media.
For more holiday traffic and parking woes, see page 8.