APRIL FOOLS — As Manatee County officials review plans for the 44th Avenue Extension and look at funding options for a bridge to cross the river, they also now are revising the plans to include widening the proposed roadway from four to six lanes.
A recent $80 million windfall from the state’s Transpiration Trust Fund has made the entire 44th Avenue project financially feasible, though taxpayers will be on the hook for another $80 million to cover the project’s $160 million cost.
Officials say that the project has been publicly known since 1989 and is necessary to accommodate and promote economic growth in the eastern part of the county.
The new funding source may resolve the issue of how to pay for expensive river crossings, paving the way for acceleration of the newly expanded project.
When contacted about the plan change, Vern Wedohnwantno, a Peridia Golf and Country Club resident, expressed shock and outrage at the accelerated pace of this hotly contested project.
“What, are they trying to host a NASCAR event here?” Wedohnwantno asked of the six-lane concept. “Seriously, I know there has been a lot of development farther east, but prepping roads for high-speed races is too much. Six lanes? Yeesh.”
Neighbor Joan Roads agreed.
“The county does have a reason for building this road,” said Roads, whose house sits so close to the planned six-lane road that her backyard grill basically stands at the intersection of the fifth and sixth lanes.“I would have to dodge traffic just to bring these grilled burger patties inside my home.”
A Manatee County official said if federal funding falls through, the county may consider making up the revenue by installing a tollbooth on the bridge or at 45th Street East. If that scenario doesn’t pan out, then the county may consider altering 44th Avenue’s route to avoid building over one of the wider sections of the river, given the river’s geography at that particular location.
Instead, the county would direct traffic along 44th until it dead ends (currently) at 51st Street East, then jog north to turn east on or near 39th Avenue East. The bridge, which would then only have to cross one section of the river, instead of two, could connect with 40th Avenue East, a residential roadway, to connect directly with Morgan Johnson Road and then hit its existing 90-degree bend back onto the existing 44th Avenue.
The county has said the four-lane road, soon to be six lanes, will go from the beaches to Lakewood Ranch, once the entire roadway is completed.
County officials are preparing a new report on the project. It will outline how much has been spent so far, how much right of way has been acquired and is still needed, as well as a financing plan to complete the project’s proposed course over the river and over Interstate 75.
The county official knows traffic at State Road 70 and 45th Street East is already bad enough, with school buses clogged up and waiting as students arrive home in the late afternoons, but said the extra wait to pay a toll will be worth it.
“When people give up their money and time like that, it makes them feel like they are a part of something big, and they are,” a county official said.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].