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Date of Issue: March 30, 2006

Traffic, traffic everywhere and not a solution in sight

Understating the obvious for Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, the Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials at its March 21 meeting held a discussion on traffic problems confronting the four member cities.

While every BIEO member and its invited guests, such as Sarasota Mayor Mary Anne Servian and Mike Howe of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, agreed that traffic on the barrier islands is a problem, no one had an acceptable solution.

LBK Town Commissioner Jeremey Whatmough suggested a consolidated traffic study of Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island to come up with possible solutions, but Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore countered: "What's the point?"

"We might be spending a lot of money for nothing. It's tourist season out here. All the people are coming from eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties to the beach at this time of year, or staying out here," she said.

The problem is only for about four months during the year, particularly during February and March, she noted.

"We just have to live with it. We're not about to four-lane State Road 789 (Gulf Drive). What's left?"

Actually, what's left is another plan for a bridge direct from the mainland to Longboat Key, an idea often proposed, but always vetoed on Longboat Key.

Whatmough noted that the U.S. Coast Guard will hold a public hearing Wednesday, March 29, at the Holmes Beach City Hall to take public input on changing the on-demand bridge opening times from every 20 minutes to every half-hour. That move could certainly improve traffic flow, he said.

The BIEO has worked the past two years to get the opening times changed and the Coast Guard is seriously considering the request, but opposition from sailing groups in Palmetto and Bradenton has surfaced.

Getting the opening times changed would help the traffic problem, particularly during the season, Whatmough argued.

"Traffic often backs up from the Cortez Bridge down S.R. 789, across the Longboat Pass Bridge and down Gulf of Mexico Drive for three or four miles," he said. A routine drive from his house to Bradenton Beach can take more than an hour during February or March.

Whatmough said a study could be done by the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida's Sarasota campus, but such study would have to come up with some solutions. He said Longboat Key is proceeding with its own study, but there was no consensus from Anna Maria Island elected officials to join.

But Servian had her own study, one which found that 80 percent of the traffic going west on Fruitville Road - the main artery to Sarasota's barrier islands - was headed toward the beach, not downtown Sarasota. That's likely the same percentage for traffic headed west on S.R. 64 (Manatee Avenue) and Cortez Road in Manatee County, Whitmore predicted.

After much discussion, the Island elected officials agreed to study the results of the Longboat Key study, but made no promises regarding acceptance of any potential solutions.

At least all the BIEO members agreed on one thing. Traffic along the barrier islands is everyone's problem, but the cure might be worse than the disease.