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Opinion
Longboat Key Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020 2 months ago

My View: It's time for a new bridge

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While Manatee is adding new bridges, Sarasota focuses on roundabouts. We need a bridge connecting 10th Street to Ken Thompson Parkway.
by: Phill Younger

Traffic on and off St. Armands Circle, Lido Key and Longboat Key has been a hot topic for several years. As time passes, the situation will continue to be an issue and grow worse. 

Traffic jams have been horrendous along the John Ringling Causeway and at its intersection with U.S. 41 and leading to Fruitville Road.  At the same time, the city of Sarasota has pursued a policy of “traffic smoothing” via a series of roundabouts on Tamiami Trail. 

Roundabouts have been effective but tend to break down with a high volume of traffic. As a result, traffic lights are installed in conjunction with the roundabouts. Paris’s Champs-Elysees, for example, is actually a huge roundabout regulated by traffic lights.

Phill Younger

Sarasota is a more elderly and less agile community than the norm. Our citizens likely will not prove deft navigating the required quick decisions and smooth blending of traffic. 

What does the above have to do with a new bridge? Plenty, actually. 

All the hopes and hype surrounding the U.S. 41 Gulfstream roundabout are based on it resolving or mitigating to some extent, traffic jams on and off the islands. That such will happen is questionable. 

Three northbound turn lanes on Ringling proved extremely effective in abetting traffic flow. They will disappear, to be replaced by a narrower feeding system to an oval roundabout that forces a driver to go south to go north. 

And how long will it be before traffic lights are re-installed? Let’s say four or five, because no one likes to admit to making a mistake, and the wheels of government grind slowly. Meanwhile, traffic at this crucial intersection will fester.

The best way, and although expensive, but perhaps less so in the long run, is to spread the island traffic via a bridge from 10th Street to Ken Thompson Parkway. Make a duplicate of the Ringling Bridge. 

Some may say a bridge from The Boulevard of The Arts would be good, but it's too close to Fruitville and too narrow at its intersection with Tamiami.

Four lanes already exist on 10th Street from N. Orange Avenue to U.S. 41. It would be relatively easy to widen it to four lanes from Orange to U.S. 301, thereby providing a much needed additional east-west corridor between the two major north-south arteries.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Manatee County have recently announced a $125 million extension of 44th Avenue E., including a $57 million bridge, to enhance beach access (of all places!) for Lakewood Ranch. 

That is in addition to plans to replace the Cortez Bridge with a fixed-span bridge similar to the Ringling Bridge; the recently opened Fort Hamer Bridge across the Manatee River; or discussions about a new bridge between Bradenton and Palmetto. 

Is anyone noticing a pattern here? Bridges for Manatee while Sarasota focuses on roundabouts. 

It’s great that Sarasota is attempting to enhance its roads and address traffic issues via roundabouts, but that is only part of the solution.

It’s also time to augment this concept with a much-needed new bridge.

Longboat Key contributes greatly to the county coffers, and it may do so much more in the future if it eventually consolidates itself into strictly Sarasota.

St. Armands Circle and Lido Key are vital parts of Sarasota’s tourist industry. Ingress and egress to each is critical, not only for their revenue generating capacity, but for safety as well. To cram all traffic onto a single egress point in a time of pending danger such as a hurricane is not wise. But that is where we are and will remain unless proper steps are taken to remedy the situation, and part of that should include a new bridge. 

It’s time, Sarasota, to push FDOT for a new bridge.

Phill Younger is a former Longboat Key town commissioner and former member of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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