Step by step.
That’s how Manatee County property manager Joy Leggett-Murphy views the process ahead of the proposed intersection realignment at 119th Street and Cortez Road.
And the first step — a conceptual plan from the Florida Department of Transportation — is apparently not a big hit in Cortez.
DOT Division 1 engineer David Wheeler released to The Islander July 3 realignment drawings showing a cut into a corner of the Florida Maritime Museum property at 4415 119th St. W. and a new traffic signal at Cortez Road.
The plan also reduces two lanes of 119th Street to one-way traffic on the south side of the intersection as well as a new eastbound lane on Cortez Road.
Three people with vested interests in the area surrounding the intersection and the waterfront — Bob Slicker, John Banyas and Jane von Hahmann — favor some improvements, but reservations remain.
Von Hahmann said it was “definitely better than it was” but criticized the south leg’s one-lane reconfiguration for not including a dedicated right turn and predicted it would create traffic backups as “60-70 percent of the traffic is going east.”
Von Hahmann, whose home is at the intersection also owns commercial property adjacent to her home on Cortez Road.
Von Hahmann also objects to the newly proposed eastbound lane and median on Cortez Road, saying it is likely to discourage westbound traffic from turning into the village.
The DOT announced a $3.7 million project in April to correct the split intersection and make other safety improvements on Cortez Road West between 86th and 123rd streets.
Initial DOT plans would have prevented traffic from entering the village at 119th Street, which includes waterfront restaurants, docks, residences, the museum and a 95-acre preserve owned by the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage.
The DOT held a May 4 public hearing, drawing strong opposition from Cortez for a Longboat Key-backed plan to allow continuous flow on Cortez Road through 119th Street, but cut off traffic in and out of Cortez.
“What really slays me is I haven’t had a single issue going eastbound,” von Hahmann said.
Like von Hahmann, Slicker and Banyas worry about the barriers planned for the middle of Cortez Road West.
Banyas owns the businesses and the waterfront property at the south end of 119th Street — N.E. Taylor Boatworks, Cortez Kitchen, Cortez Bait & Seafood and Swordfish Grill. Slicker is the general manager at Swordfish Grill.
“It’s important to remember it’s a historic village,” Slicker said, adding the county and the DOT also should consider more pedestrian-friendly improvements.
“I don’t see the need to speed through Cortez,” he added.
Meanwhile, Leggett-Murphy is looking at a two-year process to shepherd the realignment through Florida Community Trust board approvals, to vacate a county-owned easement adjacent to the museum and possibly relocate a historical boat shop on museum property.
The need for the FCT approval arises from the grant that funded the 1999 purchase of the 1912-Cortez School and grounds, now the museum, and restricted the property to conservation, historic and passive recreation purposes.
The DOT and the county are looking to the state board to modify the grant requirements, Leggett-Murphy said.
The state board wants a trade-off for the intersection, according to DOT and county officials, and the county is looking to vacate a nearby easement for the swap.
Another step may involve moving the 1908-Asa H. Pillsbury boat shop. It was moved to the museum site from Snead Island.
The shop, according to the DOT’s newest plan, is 22 feet from the future alignment of 119th Street.
Leggett-Murphy said there is approved funding for expanding the boat shop and the proposed alignment would require its relocation, possibly behind the museum.