PALMETTO -- There is a level of appreciation for the Florida Department of Transportation proposal to ease traffic over the Green Bridge between the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto -- it's just an underwhelming level of appreciation.
FDOT District One traffic operations engineer L.K. Nandam made the same presentation to the Palmetto City Commission Monday night that he gave to the Bradenton City Council March 27 where it received a similar reaction -- appreciative, but officials feel more can be done.
Nandam reminded Palmetto commissioners that studies were initiated based on the cities' concerns, and primarily those of Palmetto, that traffic backups over the Green Bridge and stretches all the way into the city of Palmetto on a frequent basis.
"We initiated studies that consisted of field observations, first to make sure there were more frequent backups and to identify the causes," said Nandam.
FDOT confirmed the increased congestion and initially tried to resolve the problem with signal light timing changes, which he said made the situation worse.
At the root cause, according to Nandam, are bottlenecks taking place coming into Bradenton on the Ninth Street West intersections of Third Avenue West and Manatee Avenue West. The solution, he said, is a $600,000 project to add a right-hand turn lane at Third Avenue West and one at Manatee Avenue West, to take through traffic off of Ninth Street West
coming off the bridge.
Nandam said it could be accomplished without losing any thru lanes, sidewalks or left-hand turn lanes by narrowing the lanes to 10 feet and reducing the size of the medians. He said the project would consist of tearing out the medians, resurfacing Ninth Street West, re-marking the traffic lanes and then rebuilding the smaller medians.
Commissioners were not unhappy to hear the plan, but they weren't happy either. Nandam, too, was lukewarm to the outcome.
"It's not going to relieve the situation, but it will manage the situation," he said.
Nandam said he is confident that removing southbound thru traffic on Ninth Street West near those intersections will, at least, help, but to what extent he does not know until the project is completed and they return to observe traffic flow. His confidence, he said, is based on the number of vehicles that turn onto Third Avenue West. He told the city of Bradenton that a "large percentage" of vehicles turn right onto Third Avenue West. He told Palmetto commissioners that "most" of the southbound traffic turns right onto Third Avenue West.
Palmetto City Commissioner Brian Williams questioned the validity of sayng "most," but Nandam said "it's pretty close."
Commissioner Tambra Varnadore questioned the need for a light at Third Avenue West, saying there was never a traffic issue before the light was installed several years ago.
"Downtown Bradenton is very problematic," she said. "Our county roads haven't improved dramatically in the last 25 years to accommodate an increasing number of people. There is just not enough roadway for the amount of traffic we have."
Varnadore said she is happy FDOT is validating the city's concerns and likes the proposal, "but I don't think it will resolve anything. We are starting to have our citizens want to move out of Palmetto because what should be a 5 or 10 minute commute into Bradenton is taking 30-45 minutes."
While Williams questioned the validity of Nandam's estimated number of vehicles turning right on Third Avenue West, he applauded the plan and said he believes it will help. Commissioner Charles Smith raised a different concern, citing the red light camera on the Third Avenue West signal as the blame for the backups. Smith said people know the camera is there so they stop well before the light turns red to avoid a $150 fine, which causes fewer vehicles to get off of Third Avenue West and onto Ninth Street West.
Nandam said that is a city enforcement issue and not a FDOT concern, but Smith insisted FDOT include the matter in any further studies.
If FDOT approves the project, it would be consolidated with two other road construction projects slated for the 2017-18 fiscal year budget. The city of Bradenton already has a project planned on Third Avenue West and there is a $2.1 million project to construct a pathway across the Green Bridge. Nandam said it will be more cost effective to include the proposal with the other projects.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him @urbanmark2014.