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Longboat Key Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019 1 month ago

Longboat leaders lobby for action on Bradenton Beach intersection

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Longboat leaders, Bradenton Beach mayor successfully ask FDOT to include a hard-to-fix junction on a list of possible sites to consider for fix-up. But nothing is certain.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Joseph Ianello wasn’t surprised when he heard the stretch of road he was trying to cross with his family, a couple of friends and a wagon or two was considered one of the slowest on the area’s barrier islands.

“I never would have thought that,” he said with a dollop of New Jersey sarcasm. “We love the beach, but we hate the traffic.”

Ianello, staying across Beach Drive from one of Bradenton Beach’s popular shoreline spots, said he has been here at various times of year. And it’s almost always the same.

“We’re careful, we watch, and we make the best,” he said, adding that his family calls a similar stretch of popular shoreline home in the Northeast. 

The authors of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Barrier Island Transportation Study agree with the street-crossing visitor from Bradley Beach, just down the shore from Asbury Park. A presentation made to the BITS steering committee in September labeled Gulf Drive from the Longboat Pass Bridge to Cortez Road the slowest in a comparison of height-of-the-season travel speeds.

It notes the T-shaped intersection at Gulf Drive and Cortez Road is a choke point on the islands, surpassing St. Armands Circle.

You don’t have to convince Jack Daly, a Longboat Key commissioner, member of the BITS steering committee and member of the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, of the problem there and its effect on Longboat Key. He’s been saying it for months.

“On ingress and egress from the barrier islands, Longboat Key particularly, that intersection is as critical an intersection as there is — certainly on the north end — and probably as critical as Gulfstream and U.S. 41 on the south end,” he said. “To do nothing is not an answer.”

But if not for Daly’s persistence and that of Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie, that’s what FDOT proposed in the summary of proposed BITS projects. And even with the push by Daly and Chappie, it’s a long shot.

Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Daly calls the intersection of Gulf Drive and Cortez Road critical to the smooth flow of traffic on the barrier islands.

The intersection failed to make the final cut of 74 projects submitted in phase three of BITS largely because of its difficulty to solve. So, not officially on the list, it had no chance of landing in the study’s top 20, which were highly ranked for their likelihood of solving problems in a cost-effective way. 

FDOT officials have said they plan to hold off on any circle plans until design of the new Cortez Bridge is done, specifically the alignment of the bridge and the route its beachside approach might take, rather than spending and building, only to have to possibly build again.

Still, Daly and Chappie pushed for inclusion as a 75th item, even though the cost and an ultimate direction to follow were unknown. FDOT officials ultimately agreed.

“So there was a little bit of a success there,” Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer said. 

Town leaders are expected to sit down soon with FDOT to hear more about potential solutions.

Longboat and other barrier island leaders are now working on developing their favored projects on the top 20 (or farther down in the more expansive list of now 75 projects) for consideration by MPO and ultimately on to FDOT in early 2020.

“If a roundabout doesn’t make sense economically, which is a big if without seeing the numbers, there has to be a some kind of modification to that intersection beyond what exists there right now, and that’s been our position all along,” Daly said.

As for the Ianellos, they’re OK, on balance. They’re on vacation.

“It’s slow,” he said. “It’s not that bad. Slow, I can handle.”

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