The Manatee County Commission says the bridge no longer makes sense.
When Stan Barr moved from Indiana to Tara in 2016, he noticed a sign at the end of Tara Boulevard.
The sign informed Barr that Tara Boulevard could be extended one day via a bridge over the Braden River.
Naturally, Barr asked his neighbors about it. They told him the extension and bridge had been in the planning process “forever and ever” and that the extension would likely never happen.
As it turns out, Barr’s neighbors could be proven correct very soon. The Manatee County Commission directed Administrator Scott Hopes to remove the Tara Boulevard extension from the county's thoroughfare plan at a May 4 work session after five commissioners said they oppose the project. Commissioners will vote on the revised thoroughfare plan at a meeting to be determined.
Commissioners said the construction of Tara Bridge might have made sense as a north-south connector when it was first added to the county’s comprehensive plan in 1989, but now they think it would direct too much traffic on a winding road through the middle of a residential area and dump it onto congested Honore Avenue.
“Honestly, if you go down Lockwood Ridge Road or Honore, the traffic that's on that road is already bumper to bumper,” Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “If you put the Tara Bridge in, you're just going to add even more to it. You’ve got more homes that are getting ready to be built in that area anyway. So it's ludicrous that we would even attempt to do that.”
The Tara Boulevard extension was a “project of record,” meaning it had no designated funding or timeline for construction. The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization estimated in 2011 that construction of the bridge would cost about $50 million. The county estimated construction would cost $14 million, but MPO board members questioned the staff-produced estimate.
“It's a complete waste of money with all the other capital improvement plan work we have to do,” Commissioner George Kruse said. “If someone wants to revisit this 50 years from now, knock yourself out. But right now, until we get everything else on the CIP done, I don't even see why it's listed in an addendum in the back of that thing.”
The project would have been funded by impact fees because it is capacity-related. The last time the project was broached by commissioners in 2016, they said it was more important to focus on other road projects, such as the 44th Avenue extension.
Although the bridge had been included in the comprehensive plan for more than three decades, it never seemed to be a high priority for commissioners. It was removed once before being reinstated, and the county didn’t acquire the final piece of land it needed for the project until June 2012. By then, Baugh said, the project didn’t make sense anymore.
Baugh said a Tara Boulevard extension probably looked like a natural piece of a strong grid system when it first became part of the comprehensive plan, but she said plans need to adapt to suit the ever-changing marketplace. She said the communities on Tara Boulevard and Honore Avenue were some of the first built in East County and boomed rapidly. Once the area became so densely residential, she said, the project was no longer viable.
“People in Tara were like, ‘Well, wait a minute here. You basically want to turn Tara Boulevard into the next Lakewood Ranch Boulevard,’” Kruse said. “It’s not, and it wasn't intended to be. It's a subdivision-type of road that was meant to service residents in those greater neighborhoods.”
A large number of Tara residents said they would be happy if commissioners scrapped the plans. Tara Community Development District Chairman Darby Connor said the half of Tara Boulevard located in Tara Preserve is an especially dangerous two-lane road where fatal accidents have occurred.
Jeannie Griffis, who has lived in Tara Preserve for eight years, agreed that safety is her top concern. She said accidents would have gotten much worse if the bridge were built.
“In the last six months going on 75, it’s still bumper to bumper,” Griffis said. “To take some of that burden and put it on a residential road just does not make sense.”
Maureen McFadden has been a resident of Tara Preserve for the past nine years. One of her biggest reasons for opposing the bridge was protecting wildlife. McFadden said most people who live in Tara do so to enjoy the tranquility of nature, adding that it’s a community where people stop traffic to help turtles cross the road. She was also concerned about the animal habitat that would have been destroyed if a bridge were built.
“You can’t call it Tara Preserve anymore if you go and build this,” McFadden said.
A few residents who live near Tara, however, wanted to see the bridge built. River Place resident Nick Artemik said extending Tara Boulevard would cut emergency response time in the area.
"It's a public safety issue when it all comes down to it," Artemik said. "If emergency response times are improved, the Tara Bridge project is a necessity for the people of our community."
Sandy Sweeney lives near Carolina Landings. Sweeney, who said she has lived in East County since she was in fourth grade, said the bridge would have smoothed out traffic in the area. Sweeney said she often needs to use I-75 to move north, which she often does when visiting family members who live off State Road 70, because Lockwood Ridge Road is too far west and there aren’t many other north-south connectors.
I-75 is “backed up almost every day,” Sweeney said. “I know that it’s always been in the plans. I’ve been waiting for it for several years.”
Now that the bridge is no longer scheduled for construction, the county has to decide what to do with the land it has acquired for the Tara Boulevard extension. To complete the project, the county bought about 26.5 acres of land for about $2.2 million between Sept. 2011 and June 2012.
That land is now surplus. Baugh said she’d like to see the county find a way to use it, whether it becomes a park or space for affordable housing.
Kruse said there are a number of possible uses. Though he has an affinity for affordable housing, he said it could be a tight fit in this case. Instead, he suggested the possibility of an internal swap. The county could build affordable housing somewhere on S.R. 70 where a park is planned and instead build a park at the end of Tara Boulevard.
“It’s right on the river,’” Kruse said. “You can even drop some kayak launches there — people can kayak out to Linger Lodge — and make a park that Tara can use, but it's open to the community because Tara is not a gated community. It could be for the benefit of Manatee County.”
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