Engineers seek fixes for traffic jams on Manatee's Green Bridge

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Officials are checking to see if infrastructure issues contribute to morning commute congestion on the Green Bridge, which spans the Manatee River between Bradenton and Palmetto.

"We're doing an investigation to make sure no infrastructure reasons" are behind the frequent jams on the bridge, said Claude Tankersley, Bradenton public works director.

Over past weeks, the messy clog atop the bridge during morning rush hour worsened, particularly after falling debris last month closed southbound lanes of Interstate 75 at University Parkway, sending drivers to alternate routes.

"When the University Parkway intersection was shut down on I-75, the bridge was simply a case of 10 pounds of traffic in a 5-pound bag," said Sage Kamiya, manager of the Manatee County Traffic Engineering Division.

Members of the Palmetto City Commission want to know why traffic from

their side of the bridge backs up every workday morning, and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant sought help in resolving it.

"It's a real bottleneck through there, and something needs to be done," said the mayor.

Local engineers are coordinating with the Florida Department of Transportation to review bridge traffic patterns, Tankersley told the Bradenton City Council on Wednesday.

From about 7:45 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays, three or four Bradenton city employees now drive across the bridge from Fifth Street in Palmetto to Manatee Avenue West on the other side to time how long it takes, said Tankersley.

Asked what may be causing tie-ups between Palmetto and Bradenton, Tankersley said: "It's my professional opinion that it has to do with how many drivers are trying to use the road -- driver behavior."

He noted the right-hand lane going south over the bridge backs up the most as it approaches Manatee Avenue, especially if someone in the center lane tries to turn right and blocks both lanes.

Other variables can affect the bridge, and each day can be different, depending on how many drivers use the road at the same time, Tankersley said.

He said he is conversing daily with state traffic engineers about the situation, since they are responsible for the bridge, he said.

"We'll just see what we find," Tankersley said.

Sometimes, pedestrians crossing the bridge make better time than those stuck in cars, said Tankersley, who exercises each day by walking to and from his Palmetto home across the bridge.

Improving light cycle timing and sequencing within the network of traffic lights on both sides of each bridge and their feeder roads is under study, said Mike Maholtz, transportation planner for the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"It really is very much a cooperative effort with city staff to look at traffic conditions on the bridge and discuss approaches that can improve things," said Debbie Tower, FDOT spokeswoman.

FDOT engineers have asked their counterparts here to monitor Green Bridge traffic from cameras mounted along Manatee Avenue, said Kamiya.

"We can see the bridge from along Manatee Avenue," he said.

During an emergency, local engineers can change the timing of traffic lights surrounding the bridge, but FDOT engineers decide what the normal timing should be, said Kamiya.

"If it's an incident where public health and safety and welfare is of concern, we can make some changes, but we would call them first and say, 'Is this OK?' said Kamiya. "Usually, they call us first."

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

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