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Opinion
Longboat Key Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2018 2 months ago

Keep up the pressure

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The Barrier Island Traffic study produced 71 recommendations. Longboat leaders would be wise to find their own way to complete the ones that matter most.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

When you think back to high season of 2015-2016 and the horrible traffic that riled everyone, you can say today, believe it or not, we’re actually making progress … and improvements.

Most notably, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Sarasota have improved, albeit slightly, one of the two worst traffic spots that affects the residents of Longboat Key: the dreaded chokepoint intersections of U.S. 41, Fruitville Road and Gulfstream-John Ringling Parkway. (The other worst spot is on the north end: the stretch of Gulf Drive from Longboat Pass through the heart of Bradenton Beach up to the Cortez Bridge intersection.)

It took more than two years to make the improvements, but we now have that new third left-turn lane from Gulfstream onto northbound U.S. 41 and a continuous right-turn lane off of U.S. 41 onto eastbound Fruitville. Miracles sometimes do occur in government, even if they do occur in dog years.

And when we said “albeit slightly” for those improvements on U.S. 41, we can’t help but cite how, in the inimitable ways of traffic management in the city of Sarasota, FDOT and the city offset their good work with the installation of a signalized crosswalk at Ritz-Carlton Drive and U.S. 41. Let’s also note neither government body has fixed the flooding that occurs on the west side of U.S. 41 next to the new Westin hotel. 

Two steps forward, two steps back. 

It’s difficult not to be cynical.

But let’s accentuate the positive for a moment. Even if all of the government bodies involved in traffic management have not made any dramatic improvements in traffic flow in the region’s worst chokepoints, it’s accurate to say Longboat Key town commissioners, leaders of the Longboat Key Revitalization Task Force and several Longboat residents have been instrumental keeping the traffic issue at the top of policymakers’ agendas.

This push from Longboat Key began after the traffic debacle of 2015-2016, with Longboaters Lenny Landau and Tom Freiwald of the Revitalization Task Force urging the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization to take action. Subsequent to their efforts, former Mayor Terry Gans, Commissioner Jack Daly and former Town Manager David Bullock continued conversations with FDOT and MPO officials and their peers in Manatee and Sarasota counties and the barriers island municipalities. Current Mayor George Spoll did his part, too, two months ago, even if he affronted Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie on that town’s seemingly intractable traffic issues. 

All of these voices had a cumulative effect, proving that hackneyed saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Or another way to look at it: If you want to get something accomplished, you need a champion. If you want to get something done, you have to take matters into your own hands. Longboat’s pressure, more than from anywhere else, created momentum and what appears to be more urgency than ever before to address this decade-long issue.

Which brings us to the recently reported results of the 2-year-old Barrier Island Traffic Study. Much is still to be accomplished.

The traffic study steering committee recently released 71 recommendations to help improve traffic flow from Anna Maria south through Longboat Key and St. Armands Circle all the way to the U.S. 41-Gulfstream-Fruitville intersection.

The committee ranked the recommendations in three categories: short-term, mid-term, long-term. We’ve highlighted in the accompanying box a dozen of the short-term and mid-term recommendations relevant to Longboat Key residents traveling on and off the Key.

Some make great sense. But think of this: There are 71 recommendations — each with different advocates, each with different levels of urgency. Imagine trying to decide what’s first. 

In the next phase of the traffic study, the steering committee and other officials are expected to devise a manageable list of priorities. To be sure, there will be winners and losers.

Let’s hope Longboat’s leaders keep up the pressure to persuade FDOT and MPO to move quicker than in the past on the worst chokepoints. But at the same time, it would behoove Longboat’s leaders to rank which of the 71 recommendations are most important to the Key and its residents and consider ways to accomplish them without having to wait for FDOT or the MPO to act. Be the champion that gets the job done.

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