MPO accepts DOT’s traffic study, but project priorities must wait

The Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study has reached its destination.

The Florida Department of Transportation formally presented results of the nearly three-year study Nov. 18 to the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO then unanimously accepted the $675,000 study.

“One of the main goals was to address and reduce congestion on the islands,” DOT traffic safety engineer Nathan Kautz told the MPO during a meeting at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

The study focused on what Kautz called the “person model.”

“When people get here, how do we keep them off the roads?” he said. “Cars were considered, but we also looked at how do we move more people?”

The DOT embarked on BITS in early 2017 and unveiled its final list of 76 recommendations two months ago.

Since then, Kautz has been presenting the plan to local government agencies, including the Manatee County Board of Commissioners and the Island Transportation Planning Organization.

The ITPO, which represents the three Anna Maria Island cities, prioritized six projects Nov. 4 for possible DOT funding.

The final steps for BITS will come when the MPO publicly reviews the project priorities Jan. 27, 2020, and submits a final list to the DOT March 15.

That doesn’t guarantee that the DOT will fund all of the suggested ITPO projects.

But the top two projects on the ITPO list are also top priorities for the DOT: Replacement of the 62-year-old Anna Maria Island and Cortez bridges. The transportation agency plans to build 65-foot-clearance fixed spans to replace the two drawbridges.

Both bridge replacements are listed on the agency’s tentative five-year work program for fiscal years 2021-25.

A $6.2 million design plan on the AMI Bridge is well underway but will not be completed until fiscal year 2022-23, DOT spokesman Brian R. Rick told The Islander in August.

The DOT announced Oct. 10 its plan to build a megabridge to replace the Cortez span and said it was starting design work on the structure. That is expected to take at least four-five years to complete.

The agency plans to spend about $8 million by fiscal 2025 for right-of-way acquisition for the new Cortez Bridge.

The DOT decision to construct a 65-foot-clearance bridge through Cortez has drawn strong opposition from many residents in the fishing village, which has been named a U.S. historic district.

Also, the AMI cities and ITPO have passed resolutions opposing the megabridge.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, who is the ITPO’s current chairman, stipulated at the organization’s Nov. 8 meeting that the replacement bridge must be midsized and not the high-clearance span the DOT plans to build.

In addition to the replacement bridges, other projects on the ITPO list are:

  • Drainage improvements in Bradenton Beach on Gulf Drive from Ninth Street North to the Avenue C intersection with Gulf Drive.
  • Complete street improvements in Bradenton Beach from the Longboat Pass Bridge to the northern city limits.
  • A right turn lane extension from East Bay Drive to Manatee Avenue in Holmes Beach.
  • Establishing multimodal capacity from 27th Street North to the Palm Drive/Gulf Drive intersection in Holmes Beach.