There are two projects officials on Anna Maria Island still dream of getting off the ground — and only one has begun to inch slowly forward.
First, there’s what’s known as the Anna Maria Island shared-use non-motorized trail, a project for which officials are trying to find funding. The trail would run from the north tip of the 7-mile barrier island to the south tip.
There’s also a request to the U.S. Coast Guard to change the schedule of openings for the Anna Maria Island and Cortez drawbridges.
The separate efforts, officials say, would improve quality of life for residents and ease traffic congestion, a persisting migraine for many.
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“We’ve requested that at least the opening times, which are now every 20 minutes, to be changed to what has been sort of the peak season. ... It has been adjusted to every 30 minutes,” Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said. “We want that to be the set time throughout the year because there isn’t much of a peak season anymore.”
Johnson said the request is still processing through the Coast Guard.
The season is just not the season anymore. It’s almost year-round. Opening the bridges creates a gridlock for not only the island but all the way up to 119th Street (in Cortez)... that’s part of the problem.
Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon
“After two years, it’s finally getting some attention,” Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy said.
According to Bradenton Beach Mayor William Shearon, times have changed on Anna Maria Island with respect to tourism season.
“The season is just not the season anymore. It’s almost year-round,” he said. “Opening the bridges (at its current schedule) creates a gridlock for not only the island but all the way up to 119th Street (in Cortez). ... That’s part of the problem.”
As for the desired trail, Shearon said he feels it would help ease the island’s consistent traffic congestion and make for safer multimodal transportation for bicyclists and walkers.
“We’re just working through the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization to put all the pieces in place so we can go after state funding,” said Lynn Burnett, the three island cities’ engineer. “The preliminary concept plans were prepared.”
Burnett added that the project estimate is between $7 million and $10 million.
“To get federal funding on a project like that is a longer-term proposition and the updates of the state’s SUNTrail plan will be underway over the next year, year and a half, so we’ll be working with other jurisdictions in the state to identify changes to what’s currently on the books, which does not include the eligibility for SUNTrail funding of the trail that would go down the island,” MPO executive director David Hutchinson said in reference to efforts by the Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation to plan and develop regionally connected trails in Florida.
Shearon described the trail as part of the island’s infrastructure.
After two years, it’s finally getting some attention.
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy
“What we’re trying to avoid is letting things deteriorate where there’s a problem, or because all four municipalities and even the county — we’ve been taking out of reserves to do these infrastructure (projects),” he said. “And pretty soon you run out of reserves and the people that are paying for these are the people that are paying the real estate tax bills.”
A month ago, the mayors of Anna Maria Island’s three cities and Longboat Key demanded greater investment from Manatee County for the barrier islands’ infrastructure needs and services, citing tourism’s impact on the areas and planned development in both Manatee and Sarasota counties.
An infrastructure funding gap of $61.5 million was projected over the next 15 years, according to a lengthy report prepared by Murphy, Shearon, Johnson and Longboat Key Mayor Jack Duncan. The report listed infrastructure needs such as public safety, transportation, parks and recreation, public buildings, beaches and waterways.
“We believe there is disproportionately high impact on our cities from tourism that places an undue burden on our resident taxpayers,” Dave Bullock, town manager of Longboat Key, said in an email at the time.