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High-speed transit needed for SRQ, but not likely soon

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

William Steele, the new director of the Manatee County Area Transit, and Roxann Lake, the new Florida Department of Transportation District 1 community liaison to commissions and committees, meet at the Island Transportation and Planning Organization’s Sept. 17 meeting at Anna Maria City Hall. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization director Mike Howe presented few short-term MPO plans for Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key officials to consider at the Island Transportation and Planning Organization Sept. 17 meeting.

He added that one idea that’s been kicked around by the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority for a number of years is a high-speed or premium transit system to and from the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, particularly going north and south.

The system is not part of the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail system that was rejected by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011.

This system, Howe said, is well needed but has never gained momentum because of a lack of funding.

Howe said any such system would also be needed to run east and west to ease congestion to barrier islands in Sarasota and Manatee counties, as well as improve travel in the Lakewood Ranch area.

It’s an idea, however, that’s well into the future, Howe observed.

A current traffic problem, however, is what to do with the U.S. Highway 41/U.S. Highway 301 spine that merges near the Red Barn Flea Market, then travels past Manatee Memorial Hospital, across the Manatee River and into Palmetto before branching again into two separate highways past the convention center.

“This is a major choke point in downtown Bradenton,” Howe said.

About 100 people attended a recent charette on a proposal for a new bridge across the Manatee River.

The Florida Department of Transportation will prepare a report on options for the choke point, make a recommendation and the MPO will decide “where we go in the future,” said Howe.

In other business, Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, the ITPO chairperson, thanked Anna Maria public works superintendent George McKay for his dedication to for the Florida Department of Transportation and other transportation committees.

Outgoing Manatee County Area Transit director Carl Hunsinger, who will be replaced Oct. 1 by William Steele, praised McKay and the island cities for working with MCAT and DOT. He noted how quickly McKay figured out how to give the island trolley more room to park at the Anna Maria City Pier while also allowing more room for vehicles to maneuver in the parking lot.

Hunsinger said Sarasota County Area Transit also is getting a new director and MCAT and SCAT heads will meet monthly.

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