The traffic problem that drew the most discussion at the latest meeting of the Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study steering committee wasn’t even on the final list of solutions.
The intersection of Cortez Road and Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach wasn’t included in the ranking because officials have not decided how to improve it, so no one knows how much a fix would cost, Nathan Kautz, Florida Department of Transportation engineer said at the Sept. 27 BITS meeting.
Knowing how much it would cost was a requirement to be listed, Kautz said.
That wasn’t good enough for Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly and Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie.
“That intersection represents the most critical intersection with respect to traffic issues,” Daly said at the meeting, which was held at CrossPointe Fellowship in Holmes Beach. “I’m not being critical, but I am expressing some exasperation.”
Daly raised the same concern when the BITS steering committee met in April.
Chappie joined Daly in pointing to the intersection at the Sept. 27 BITS meeting.
“That intersection is the main problem right there,” he said. “And it’s pretty obvious.”
David Hutchinson, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, said there are no easy solutions.
“There’s not much space there,” he said. “That’s the real problem. That’s a very tough location.”
DOT engineer Kautz said the intersection would be added in last place to the 20-item priority list and would indicate that a price estimate is not available.
That seemed to satisfy Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer.
“It should be on the list,” Harmer said. “We know that’s the biggest chokepoint on the whole island.”
Chappie suggested that Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key officials meet separately to discuss solutions.
The DOT launched BITS early in 2017 at the request of the MPO, the regional planning group. The MPO includes a 17-member board of elected officials and a professional planning staff.
The study, which was budgeted for $675,000, consists of three parts, two of which have been completed. Phase 1 examined prior studies, and Phase 2 listed potential improvements and recommendations.
The third phase, discussed at the Sept. 27 meeting, ranked mid- and long-term projects and identified possible project funding.
The ranking aimed to show “which projects are going to give us more bang for the buck,” said Leigh Holt, the MPO’s strategic planning manager.
Some options, she said, will not be popular with area residents.
“This is a menu,” she told the committee. “Not everything on this list is going to be politically correct. That’s what you’re going to have to deal with when you go back home.”
The top-ranked project is an electronic message board at 75th Street and Manatee Avenue and another one at 75th and Cortez Road.
No. 2 is establishing rideshare pick-up and drop-off locations.
The third-ranked recommendation is to reduce the configuration of the intersection at the north access to the Manatee Public Beach parking lot in Holmes Beach.
Replacing the Anna Maria Island, Cortez and Longboat Pass bridges was ranked No. 8.
The DOT already has embarked on some projects, including:
- The design phase is about two-thirds completed on the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the DOT said in August.
- A project development and environment study for the Cortez Bridge is expected to be released by the end of the year.
- The DOT expects to award a contract for a PD&E study for the Longboat Pass Bridge early next year.
A self-admitted example of a project that would be a hard sell is No. 5: Restrict personal vehicle use to create a “car-free zone” on the islands.
“That’s extreme,” Holt told The Islander after the meeting, noting that’s one of those “politically incorrect” suggestions she mentioned earlier.
Consultant Frank Domingo, who conducted the study in connection with the DOT, told The Islander that projects were listed in terms of their desirability, not necessarily by how likely they are to be adopted.
“There’s never going to be one big fix,” he said. “It’s a bunch of little fixes. It’s more important to reduce the number of cars. Period.”
Domingo also spoke to the committee about the results of a travel study conducted from 2016-18.
It reveals the slowest average travel times along several parts of Anna Maria Island, Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road:
- The slowest average — 5 mph — was for northbound traffic on a March afternoon along Gulf Drive between the Longboat Pass Bridge and Cortez Road.
- From Cortez Road northbound to Manatee Avenue along Gulf Drive was 10 mph midday in March.
- On Cortez Road, eastbound in the afternoon in April from Gulf Drive to 75th Street West also was 10 mph.
- The fastest average time, clocking in at 15 mph, was westbound midday in April along Manatee Avenue between Gulf Drive and 75th Street West.
- East-west traffic was slowest on weekends and north-south on weekdays.
The traffic study also found that 80% of AMI traffic was from within Florida and 20% originated out of state. The city of Anna Maria had the highest percentage of out-of-state traffic at 30%.
BITS plans to present project priorities to MPO committees Nov. 4 and to the full board of MPO members Nov. 18.
The MPO board will review the project priorities at its Jan. 27, 2020, meeting and submit its recommendations to the DOT March 15.
In the meantime, local elected officials have some fast work to do to meet the deadlines, something they acknowledged at the meeting.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we can get it done,” Chappie said.
Holt, the MPO planning manager, told the BITS committee members they have “a great menu” from which to pick.
“You have choices,” she said. “You have to prioritize. There’s not enough money for everything.”
THE TOP 20
Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study Evaluation Summary
1) Location: 75th and Cortez, 75th and SR 684. Strategy: Link dynamic message board to bridge openings.
2) Location: Various. Strategy: Establish rideshare pick-up and drop-off location, staging of vehicle departure, geofencing, develop logistics plan for rideshare and pooled rideshare.
3) Location: Gulf Drive and the Manatee Beach parking lot. Strategy: Reconfiguration of the intersection at the north access to the Manatee Beach parking lot or reduce fleet vehicle size.
4) Location: John Ringling Parkway. Strategy: Potential counterflow options on Ringling Boulevard.
5) Location: Various. Strategy: Restrict personal vehicle use to create a “car-free zone” on the Islands.
6) John Ringling Parkway (SR 789) at Gulfstream. Strategy: Place law enforcement officers at key intersections to direct traffic south to spread traffic to alternative east-west corridors (Bahia Vista & Webber Streets).
7) Location: TBD. Strategy: Create transit priority to allow parking shuttles and transit vehicles to pass the queues along Cortez, and avoid the amount of traffic ignoring the right-turn-only lane signage at 115th Street West.
8) Location: Various. Strategy: New bridges at SR 64/Manatee Ave/Anna Maria Bridge; SR 684/Cortez Road/Cortez Bridge; SR 789/Gulf of Mexico Dr/Longboat Pass Bridge.
Each bridge should have a flexible lane added to bridge typical section to accommodate future transit.
9) Location: Various. Strategy: Widen the existing bike lanes into cart lanes to allow motorized carts that are rented on the Island to travel outside of the general-purpose lanes.
10) Location: City of Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach/Cortez Beach, Holmes Beach, and Coquina Beach. Strategy: Develop an electronic wayfinding system that enables motorists to take advantage of remote parking locations located off-island.
11) Location: Intersection improvement. Strategy: Allow buses to bypass queues on the mainland to improve speed and reliability. Priority on Manatee Avenue.
12) Location: Coon Key Bridge. Strategy: New bridge at SR 789/Ringling/Coon Key Bridge and should include a flexible lane added to bridge typical section to accommodate future transit.
13) St. Armands Circle. Strategy: Pedestrian Managers to increase capacity during peak season platooning of pedestrians.
14) Location: SR 789 & Bird Key Drive. Strategy: Install high-visibility back plates to draw attention to the traffic signal.
15) Location: Coquina Beach. Strategy: Charge a fee specific to Coquina Beach parking inventory and pursue available park-and-ride program options and locations to accommodate typical peak demand activity.
16) Location: Lido Key and St. Armands. Strategy: Develop an electronic wayfinding system that enables motorists to take advantage of remote parking locations located off-island.
17) Location: Bradenton Beach. Strategy: Construct the Anna Maria Island Trail through downtown Bradenton Beach. The proposed Trail typical section includes an 8’ sidewalk on one side of SR 789, two 11’ travel lanes, and buffers between the sidewalk and sidewalk to channelize pedestrians to specific crossing locations. The Trail is being developed by the City Engineer for Anna Maria, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach and funding applications have been submitted to FDOT and other agencies for future design and construction.
18) Location: Bradenton Beach. Strategy: Pursue available park-and-ride program opportunities and locations to accommodate typical peak demand activity. Charge a fee to park in public parking spaces to subsidize pursuit of public parking locations.
19) Location: Various. Strategy: Develop a phone app to provide direct communication to guests, customize travel directions, “no parking near beaches” types of messages.
20) Location: Lido Beach. Strategy: Beach-based shuttle by using the vehicle/pathway lanes at the back of the beach next to the berm to allow all-terrain cart-shuttle services along the beach.
Source: Florida Department of Transportation