MPO board: 44th Avenue extension would ease evacuation

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A Manatee County-Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council map shows evacuation routes, as well as evacuation levels. The evacuation routes off Anna Maria Island are State Road 64/Manatee Avenue and State Road 684/Cortez Road, which does not directly connect with Interstate 75. The evacuation route on the island is State Road 789/Gulf Drive.

For those evacuating Anna Maria Island in advance of a storm, only one route off the island — State Road 64/Manatee Avenue — takes travelers directly to the interstate highway.

But transportation planners hope to improve other evacuation corridors in the region, including the eastward extension of 44th Avenue, which connects with State Road 684/Cortez Road, the other main route off the island in an emergency.

During a meeting May 20 in Sarasota, the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board voted 13-0 for MPO executive director David Hutchinson to send a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis detailing the importance of funding the 44th Avenue extension.

The Florida Legislature sent DeSantis a budget that includes a line item providing $10 million for crossings at the Braden River and I-75, after Hutchinson told the board the governor “is seeking justification for why that project should not be vetoed.”

Manatee County has funded the ongoing project mostly with impact fees from new construction, leading the governor’s office to question the appropriation of state funding. Also, the Florida Department of Transportation did not request or budget the money.

Establishing 44th Avenue-Cortez Road as a major thoroughfare from the island to Lakewood Ranch would help with evacuating Sarasota and Manatee counties, according to Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, a member of the MPO board.

“It is a very important connector and is vital for evacuations,” said Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, who represents the three island governments on the MPO board.

Also, the extension would relieve congestion on State Road 64 and State Road 70, which Bradenton Councilman Patrick Roff described as “overloaded,” at maximum capacity.

The extension, he said, is “good for the county. … Good for the state.”

Board members also discussed planned improvements on River Road in Sarasota County, an evacuation route between I-75 and Englewood, and making Lorraine Road a major north-south thoroughfare east of the interstate.

The next MPO meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 23, at the Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota.

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