Pictorial display of 44th Avenue East project draws protesters

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 21, 2013 

PALMETTO -- More than 100 people Wednesday viewed a pictorial display showing plans for the 44th Avenue East road project along U.S. Highway 301, many dressed in red shirts as a form of protest.

Some of those from neighborhoods that will be affected by the project called it "ill-conceived," and "a negative impact," and urged their friends to fill out comment cards suggesting the county change its plans.

Larry R. Mau, branch manager for the Sarasota office of Cardno TBE, which designed part of the new thoroughfare, explained to the crowd that "the county does have a reason for building this road."

The public meeting was not to debate whether or not to build the road, but was meant as a simple informational session, he said.

Still, many of the attendees hoped county officials would take note of comment cards urging a halt to the project at U.S. 301, rather than continuing to 45th Street East.

The county's planning was flawed because it allocated money for the road, but not for a bridge across the Braden River necessary for its completion, said Roland Wilson, a retiree who lives at the Peridia Golf & Country Club.

Neighbors have dubbed the project "the road to nowhere," because it stops at the river and there are no plans for a bridge. "If they're serious, they should build the bridge now, and leave the roads the way they are now," Wilson said during the meeting at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.

"They don't care about us, all they care about is Lakewood Ranch," he added.

The project has been part of the county's comprehensive plan for more than 20 years, and will fulfill a critical need, connecting Cortez Road on the west to Lakewood Ranch on the east, transportation planners have told Manatee County commissioners. Last week, County Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer reiterated: "We do intend to complete it, and go all the way to Lakewood Ranch. This is a road from the beach to Lakewood Ranch."

County officials are preparing a new report on the project. It will outline how much has been spent so far, how much right-of-way has been acquired, and a financing plan to complete the project's proposed course over the river and over Interstate 75, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said recently.

Construction on the first phase, a three-lane roadway, is slated to start as early as this summer from the intersection of U.S. Highway 41 and 44th Avenue East to 19th Street Court East, county officials have said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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