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Longboat Key Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 2 years ago

Barrier island traffic study reaches second milestone

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Town leaders will evaluate the study's latest figures in an effort to improve the island's traffic.
by: Ryan Butler News Innovation Editor

Heading into another autumn and the visitor season that comes with it, Longboat Key leaders are hoping future years won't see the frequent hour-and-a-half wait times many residents experience trying to get on or off the island.

The latest effort is coming through FDOT's Barrier Islands Traffic Study, an effort to evaluate traffic on Sarasota and Manatee county's barrier islands and the adjacent roadways on the mainland. After an initial phase reviewing years of previous studies, the study heads into a second step to evaluate data collected from passing cars during the past few months. 

The objective is to analyze the data for step three: action plans to ease the long wait times residents experience every fall and winter driving around Longboat and the surrounding island communities.

This data will be presented to a steering committee in the coming days and a larger group of stakeholders later this month. Though the study is still in its early phases, its importance is not overlooked by Longboat representatives to the study committee. 

"Even early in the process, studies have a way of getting formed for better or worse," said Town Commisioner Jack Daly, who along with Longboat Key Town Manager Dave Bullock represents the island on the committee. 

Among Daly's initial concerns, he said, is the intersection of Cortez Road and Gulf Drive, a mile or so north of Longboat. He said FDOT officials have been hesitant to propose a significant change to that intersection as part of this study, but Daly has pushed for all options to remain on the table. 

"At this point in time, don’t dismiss an analysis of the potential improvements at that intersection," Daly said. "If that’s a cost issue that’s prohibitive, lets then look at what the options are to mitigate traffic congestion, but let's put a number on it first and then determine if that makes economic sense."

A similar choke point occurs at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Boulevard in Sarasota, which has for years been a major concern for Longboat and city of Sarasota residents. The city has agreed to provide an additional northbound lane on U.S. 41, in addition to some other features, but the significant backups at that intersection will still be a major priority in this study. 

Discussions about the fate of the Cortez Bridge, which connects Longboat Key to Bradenton Beach, will also be a part of the study.

Longboat and FDOT have advocated for a tall fixed-span bridge, which would allow traffic to flow without stopping for boat-traffic passing through a drawbridge. But residents have balked, saying such a structure, similar in scale to the Ringling Bridge in Sarasota, would be aesthetically out of place. The other options are a low-rise drawbridge, similar to the existing bridge, and a higher-rise drawbridge that would allow more boat traffic to pass under without stopping traffic. 

Along with these multi-million dollar projects, Longboat hopes the study will shed light on other long-time traffic nuisances, which goes as far as to evaluate how much time people spend blocking roadways looking for parking spots along the water at Bradenton Beach to how to better integrate pedestrians around the roadways in St. Armands Circle. 

With so much of the study still unknown, Longboat officials are consistent in the demand to keep all options on the table. 

"There’s every reason, as I see it, to identify all possible traffic remediation options that will potentially aid less congestion on the island," Daly said. "That’s a continual theme that I’ve had." 

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