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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

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Got molasses
The molasses barge Regina, which sunk in 1940 in 20 feet of water about 75 yards offshore of Bradenton Beach just north of the Beach House Restaurant, is slated to become a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. The site is a popular attraction for scuba divers. Islander Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer McKinnon
BIEO learns about water taxis and molasses

The Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials is always interested in ways to reduce traffic on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, particularly during the winter season.

And the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization may have at least one answer: water taxis.

Bob Herrington of the MPO told the BIEO at its March 24 meeting in Bradenton Beach, in a bit of an understatement, that there's a "lot of congestion on Anna Maria Island" these days.

Tell us something we don't know, BIEO officials said.

Well, replied Herrington, water taxis from the mainland to selected locations on the Island and Longboat Key might be a partial answer.

Water taxis are used successfully in Ft. Lauderdale and Jacksonville, he said, and Pinellas County is currently doing a feasibility study on the taxis.

Intrigued by the possibilities, the MPO will hold a meeting from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday, April 5, at the Manatee Civic Center in Palmetto to discuss the issue.

The "charrette" will focus on the "feasibility of waterborne transportation for passenger travel in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and how such travel can effectively compliment and enhance the multimodal transportation system," Herrington said.

He hopes the charrette will serve as a "catalyst" to generate interest among the various governments, elected officials and agencies that would be involved in the process of establishing and funding such a service, and members of the public.

Funds for a feasibility study on the project are in the 2004-05 MPO budget, Herrington added.

In other business, the BIEO heard a presentation from Della Scott of the Florida Underwater Archaeological Sites office in Tallahassee about designating the shipwreck of the Regina off Bradenton Beach in the Gulf of Mexico as such a site.

Efforts are under way for the designation, which comes from the Florida Secretary of State's office, she said.

The Regina wreck and dive site would be the only FUAS location on Florida's west coast, and just the 10th location on the FUAS list.

Once the Regina is on the FUAS list, it would eventually be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Scott thanked Pete and Loraine Athas of Sea Trek Dive Shop in Bradenton Beach for informing her organization of the Regina, and for all the work they've done to meet FUAS listing criteria.

While there's still a lot of local volunteer work to be done to secure the designation, Scott said she was confident of success.

The Regina was a molasses barge that sank during a storm in 1940 about 75 yards offshore from Bradenton Beach just north of the Beach House Restaurant. It's located in about 20 feet of water and is a popular scuba and snorkel attraction.

Mike Howe of the MPO also updated the BIEO on the on-going Florida Department of Transportation traffic count.

Once the study is complete, it will be forwarded to the MPO, then to the BIEO.

The BIEO then needs to "tell us what you want to happen and we'll try and find some money," he said, but the BIEO needs to get recommendations in as soon as possible after it receives the DOT information, if it wants to get on the MPO funding list.

Of major concern is the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road, and how traffic backs up, particularly during the winter season when the drawbridge goes up.

A roundabout for the intersection, a longer right-turn lane from Cortez Road onto Gulf Drive, traffic police during peak periods, and four-laning the intersection have all been previously discussed.

"Tell us what you want and come with an application for funding," said Howe.

He also noted that efforts by DOT to change the bridge opening times seem to have stalled because the U.S. Coast Guard has asked for a 12-month count of boats that require the bridge to be raised, in addition to the current DOT traffic count of vehicles crossing the bridge.

"Why not just go to the bridge log?" kept by the bridge tender to get the information, suggested Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann.

"I don't know," replied Howe. "It's frustrating. I have no answer."

That means letters now being sent by Longboat Key and Island cities to the Coast Guard asking for bridge raising times to be changed will likely have no effect.

The Cortez Bridge and the Anna Maria Bridge currently are raised every 20 minutes on boater demand during daylight hours. The Longboat Pass Bridge raises only on demand by boaters.