Temporary road measures will soon change the landscape at 119th Street and Cortez Road West.
David Wheeler, traffic safety program engineer for Florida Department of Transportation, District 1, announced a plan Aug. 4 to construct improvements and change how traffic moves through the 119th Street intersection.
The interim improvements are expected to be operational by the end of the year.
They are hoped to solve the long-standing bottleneck at the now-unaligned 119th Street intersection, which is blamed for long traffic backups to and from Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key at peak tourist season.
As far as the “ultimate improvements,” Wheeler confirmed the DOT’s pursuit of a permanent realignment of the intersection through the Florida Maritime Museum property.
For the interim improvements, DOT will install temporary structures to direct traffic and de-signalize the intersection except for north leg of 119th Street. From the north, motorists will still be able to turn east.
“A stop sign will be installed on the south leg of 119th
Street West allowing motorists to turn onto Cortez Road without waiting for a signal,” Wheeler continued.
The temporary solution will provide “free flow” eastbound off the islands — only stopping for pedestrians who activate the signal, according to the release.
DOT government affairs and communications manager officer Zac Burch said the temporary improvements will cost about $200,000, and be funded by a state budget reserved for operational improvements.
Burch said studies support the need for the de-signalized south leg because “traffic gets backed up because of the signal,”. Worrisome for villagers, however, is how changes to the main drag of Cortez — with residences and numerous businesses, including restaurants, docks and boat yards — will force more traffic into the village.
Linda Molto, a 32-year Cortez resident, opposes the interim improvements.
“If there’s no break in the traffic, we don’t get out,” Molto said.
“There’s nothing helping us turn left. It just looks pretty bad for me. It’s as though we’re not important.”
Jane von Hahmann, who lives and owns businesses on the south side of 119th Street, believes the interim plan will “inconvenience” Cortezians.
“But we’ll see,” she said Aug. 4.
DOT met with a number of Cortez residents and businesses in the past month about the interim plans, von Hahmann said, adding she expects waist-high barriers to be installed east of village on Cortez Road.
Previous plans have shown a new eastbound lane to be added on Cortez Road from 121st Street through the intersection, but Burch said he was uncertain Aug. 4 if such a lane would be added.
The temporary plan does show two eastbound lanes tapering to about 250 feet east of the 119th Street.
If the interim changes do not improve the intersection or “make it worse,” Burch said, the DOT can fix them.
The push to improve the intersection began in March 2016 with a letter from four island mayors to DOT, requesting “quick fixes” to seasonal traffic issues.
A $3.7 million project — including other corridor improvements — was previewed at a May public hearing where more than 150 people viewed, heard and commented on the plan.
From the meeting, Burch said the eventual realignment through the museum property emerged as “by far and away the most popular solution of the residents — and our engineers agreed.”
Cortezians and mainland residents, who pushed for a long-term plan that considered the Cortez traffic problems and future developments, clashed with Longboat Key mayor Terry Sans and village manager Tim Bullock, who favored the “free-flow” of traffic off the islands.
Meanwhile, Manatee County property manager Joy Leggett-Murphy has estimated a two-year process for the intersection’s realignment to take shape.
She reported in July she was working with a board that oversees Florida Community Trust grants. A series of approvals are needed because the county purchased the museum grant funds and restrictions were imposed to limit the museum land to conservation purposes.
A county-owned easement will likely be vacated and notices required, Leggett-Murphy said.
Also possible is the need to relocate a historical boat shop near the intersection. The 1908 Asa H. Pillsbury boat shop, according to the DOT’s newest plan, is 22 feet from a future alignment of 119th Street.
Leggett-Murphy said expansion plans for the boat shop might necessitate its relocation, possibly behind the museum’s parking lot.