Cortez businessman John Banyas and resident Jane von Hahmann talk in the lobby at the Holiday Inn, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota, before the April 24 meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Board. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
At the April 24 MPO board meeting, David Gywnn, Department of Transportation director of operations, explains options for changing traffic flow at 119th Street and Cortez Road West, part of a $3.7 million project between 86th Street West and 123rd Street West.
Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grill general manager, urges state and regional transportation officials April 24 to consider a long-term plan for Cortez Road.
Manatee County Commissioner Steve Jonsson, one of two county representatives on the MPO board, voices support for a permanent solution to address the 119th Street bottleneck.
Residents of Cortez and Sunny Shores met April 24 in Sarasota where their concerns merged for a long-term traffic fix for the Cortez Road West stranglehold.
At the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting — including an audience packed with residents — the Florida Department of Transportation presented its newest plans for the Cortez Road Safety Improvement Project with a $3.7 million budget.
DOT recommendations include an interim solution to be in place by the end of 2017.
According to David Gywnn, DOT director of operations, four 119th Street intersection options are under consideration:
- Leave as is.
- Remove the signal.
- Modify intersection control to restrict movements.
- Realign 119th Street from a staggered intersection, now with north and south legs separated by 200 feet on Cortez Road, into a “plus” intersection — if the corner at the Florida Maritime Museum property can be used.
Gywnn said the realignment “would probably be the best long-term solution” and predicted construction in the summer of 2019.
He also recommended the interim solution to modify the signal “so it’s not controlling the south leg” and to allow continuous — but for pedestrian option — eastbound traffic flow.
Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly said the change would be “very, very significant” to help get traffic off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in peak season.
Manatee County Commissioner Steve Jonsson thanked the DOT for delaying the process — in apparent reference to the DOT’s backpedal in mid-April on a proposal to eliminate a left-turn signal from Cortez Road West onto the south leg of 119th Street after the plan stirred opposition in Cortez.
Jonsson’s county district includes Cortez and Anna Maria Island.
He was the first to ask for a permanent solution.
“Before we agree to an interim plan,” he said, “I’d like to know what the permanent fix is going to be,” calling it “a mess” for the past 20 years.
With more traffic in Cortez and the future development of Peninsula Bay, “It’s something we should address sooner rather than later,” he added.
Cortez speaks out
John Banyas, owner of the Cortez Bait & Seafood, Cortez Kitchen, Swordfish Grill and N.E. Taylor Boatworks at the bay end of 119th Street, said it is “virtually impossible” for trucks — without taking out corners of people’s homes — to make turns on the village streets.
Banyas said 80 trucks — with 53-foot-long refrigeration containers — make the turns weekly in and out of 119th Street along with daily traffic from vehicles of 142 employees, mechanics, customers and others.
“We have a lot more traffic than you’re thinking,” Banyas said.
An April DOT study indicated a one-day count of 60-65 left turns per hour from Cortez Road south onto 119th Street — four times the number of such turns the DOT counted in 2014.
Jane von Hahmann, who lives and owns commercial property at the corner of 119th Street, said the DOT did not approach her about the prior plans.
She presented the MPO with a petition signed by 176 people, including 106 patrons of Cortez Kitchen April 22, who oppose removing a dedicated westbound left turn onto the south leg of 119th Street from Cortez Road.
“I like the idea that we’re stepping away from the no-left turn” from Cortez Road south on 119th Street, von Hahmann said, but, she added, she opposes the concept of eliminating 119th Street westbound left turns.
Due to the plan to de-signalize eastbound Cortez Road traffic, she predicted it will force westbound motorists wanting to turn left from the southside of the village onto Cortez Road “to play that shoot-the-gap game.”
Bob Slicker, Swordfish Grill general manager, implored the MPO and DOT to look long-term.
“Before you change our roads … in the oldest fishing village in the state of Florida,” Slicker said, planners should look at accurate traffic numbers, pedestrian traffic and the future development build-out.
Sunny Shores resident Vern Palsrok said two crosses have memorialized people who died at “very dangerous intersection” at 115th Street and Cortez Road.
At that intersection, motorists who want to turn left on Cortez Road from Sunny Shores must cross two lanes in a 45-mph zone.
Palsrok claimed DOT data indicating four fatalities is outdated — that an additional nine people have died at the intersection since 2015. He also said the neighborhood residents feel trapped in the subdivision.
“We’d love an on-demand light,” he added.
Palsrok reminded planners of the future development of Peninsula Bay, “We’re surrounded by the flower farm soon to be developed.”
In October 2016, Manatee County commissioners approved Peninsula Bay, with an expected build out over 12 years.
Developer Whiting Preston, owner of Manatee Fruit Co., plans 1,950 homes and 90,000 square feet of commercial space on 360 acres and access to Cortez Road West at 107th, 115th and 119th streets.
MPO concerns, DOT response
Another problem identified by MPO board members is a place where two westbound lanes merge into one on Cortez Road.
Motorists navigate around backed-up traffic in the right-hand merge lane or turn right and travel through neighborhoods to avoid the 119th Street bottleneck, according to Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac, who is an MPO member.
“Basically, they don’t like it that the lane ends,” she said. Gywnn said the improvements to the “extremely inefficient” 119th intersection should solve the backup and eliminate the line-cutting and neighborhood shortcuts.
Benac also asked whether a roundabout at 119th Street using FMM property had been ruled out as a solution.
“We’ll look at it again,” Gwynn said, “but it may not be the best approach for that intersection.”
Deed restriction muddles DOT’s options for Cortez Road
A permanent fix to the 119th Street bottleneck on Cortez Road may depend on whether obtaining a right of way is permissible under a deed restriction for the Florida Maritime Museum.
The property is encumbered by the Florida Community Trust bond that funded 1999-2000 renovations for the 1912 Cortez School — now the museum.
The deed restriction provides the property “shall be managed only for conservation, protection and enhancement of natural and historic resources” and for compatible “passive natural resource-based public outdoor recreation.”
“Folks are looking into it,” David Gwynn, director of operations for the Florida Department of Transportation, said regarding whether the property can be used for a public safety project.
Gwynn said he’s spoken to a representative of the Manatee County Circuit Clerk’s office, who didn’t think it was an allowable use.
He also spoke with Bradenton Beach Commissioner John Chappie, an FMM board member, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and Manatee County’s public works director Ron Schulhofer.
Manatee County Commissioner Jonsson wrote in an April 27 email, “At this point, I have no new information other than the county is in discussions with appropriate parties to reserve the options.”
Gwynn said April 28 he is still waiting for a county or circuit clerk representative to figure out a “legal way” to use the FMM property.