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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

DOT begins six-month Island traffic study

The Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials got some good news at its Feb. 18 meeting in Anna Maria.

Mike Howe of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization told the BIEO that the Florida Department of Transportation has agreed to conduct a six-month evaluation of Island traffic congestion and patterns, with particular emphasis on Cortez Bridge and the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection.

In fact, said Howe, the DOT has already begun the study.

Good, said Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann, who noted that the last DOT traffic study was done in the first week of October 2003.

"I can't think of a slower month to count cars on Cortez Road than the first week of October," she observed dryly.

Not so for this DOT effort.

The six-month study will include holiday weekend traffic such as Easter, Memorial Day and July 4.

That should give the DOT a pretty good idea of the numbers, said Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn.

Once the information is complete, it will be forwarded to the MPO.

The MPO would like to use the data in an attempt to get the U.S. Coast Guard to change the drawbridge time for the Cortez Bridge, and also the Anna Maria Bridge on Manatee Avenue. Currently, both bridges can be raised every 20 minutes on demand by boaters during daylight hours.

The BIEO has long lobbied for a change to 30-minute intervals, particularly during the winter tourist season.

In addition to the data for the USCG, said Howe, the MPO will need an engineer's study of the traffic congestion at the Cortez Road-Gulf Drive intersection and recommended improvements to send to the DOT for direction on solving the congestion problem there.

Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie offered to have his city's Scenic Highway Committee Corridor Management Entity take the lead in organizing an engineer's study, if the Bradenton Beach City Commission approves.

Howe estimated such a study would cost about $25,000 and von Hahmann suggested the three Island cities and Manatee County might jointly fund the study.

Manatee County Administrator Ernie Padgett agreed this was a project the county should be involved with and pledged support, as did von Hahmann.

The engineer's study should be done when the DOT data are available for use in the study, Howe noted.

Once intersection improvements are agreed upon, the MPO has some funding programs for those improvements, but it could take several years for those to become available.

DOT funds may also be available for intersection improvements, Howe said.

The BIEO also discussed the upcoming Manatee County half-cent sales tax increase vote on March 9.

Another issue noted was the state legislature's revenue sharing modification plan with municipal governments, and the state law passed last year requiring municipal governments to pay a $200 court filing fee to prosecute municipal cases in the state court system (see separate story).

The next BIEO meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, at Bradenton Beach City Hall.

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