Neighbors object to extension of 44th Avenue East in Manatee

twhitt@bradenton.comMarch 16, 2011 

MANATEE -- County commissioners are asking the county’s engineering staff to examine options -- including narrowing the road to two lanes and slowing traffic -- for the construction of a nearly 2-mile section of a major east-west road through Manatee.

Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to have the staff investigate lowering the speed limit on the proposed 44th Avenue East extension and to make the road two lanes as opposed to four. Five commissioners also voted to have the staff investigate limiting access into a neighborhood where residents complained about the project.

That vote came after a public hearing during which several residents from two neighborhoods told commissioners that the 44th Avenue extension, which has been part of the county’s comprehensive plan for more than 20 years, would create noise, traffic and safety concerns in their neighborhoods.

Some of those residents asked commissioners to scrap plans for the road altogether, and others asked for walls around their communities designed to block the noise and buffer them from the passing traffic.

While the road has been in the planning stages for decades, the county also approved development of three neighborhoods along that stretch of the road -- between 30th Street East and 45th Street East -- about 10 years ago.

The neighborhoods left little room for road construction. To make matters worse, neighbors say, the developer and Realtors never told them about plans for a four-lane thoroughfare.

Richard Lewis told commissioners that it is the county’s fault that these two issues are now on a collision course.

“You all have said that this has been ongoing since 1987,” he said. “Why didn’t you look at the future development? Highland Ridge and Oak Trace weren’t started until 2002. Who approved these developments when the Cortez Road extension was already planned?”

While commissioners sympathized, a couple of the commissioners told residents that it was their responsibility to check the county’s comprehensive plan before buying a home in a newly developed area to see what other changes might be planned.

So far, the county has spent more than $8.2 million on the more than $50 million road extension.

Residents said the new road would invite more traffic into their neighborhoods marked by cul-de-sacs, winding roads and swing sets.

Residents of Oak Trace do not want another entrance into the neighborhood as part of the new road construction. Emergency services has asked for better access to the neighborhood to improve response times and to ensure that the neighborhood is accessible. Norman Fey said another entrance would only invite more traffic into the neighborhood.

Robert Woodburn of nearby Highland Ridge said more traffic isn’t just a threat on the roads, it is a threat to the neighborhood’s security.

“Our neighborhood is safe and secure right now,” he said. “This road will change that.”

His wife, Barbara Woodburn, said residents have worked hard to make sure that their neighborhood stays safe, secure and beautiful, despite the economy.

Neighbors keep an eye on foreclosed homes in the neighborhood, and they do landscaping and other maintenance to make sure the neighborhood does not look neglected, she said. Woodburn said she wants the county to wall in the neighborhood to keep it safe and to reduce noise.

While Manatee County’s Public Works Department recommended against 10-foot walls, saying they would cost the county more than $2.1 million and could exacerbate the noise issue, commissioners asked the staff to come back with a recommendation on ways to help cut down the noise. That could include an allowance given to the residents so they can buy trees and shrubs and create their own landscaping barriers.

County workers estimated that landscaping materials located on the private property would cost about $35,000.

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