Long-term traffic planning is just that: long term. A quarter-century ago, that planning got Bradenton and Palmetto to where it is today.
The good news is that the vision 25 years ago, with the exception of a third bridge across the Manatee River, is essentially what you see today. The bad news is that it’s really hard to predict the future — and the present congestion is, well, what you see today.
Florida Department of Transportation officials gave an update Wednesday on the months-long Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis that is focused on alleviating congestion between Bradenton and Palmetto, as well as in downtown Bradenton.
Discussions about a new bridge continue.
Brent Lacey, FDOT consultant and project manager, said the challenges are significant. The three primary choices for a third bridge are the 15th Street East, Ninth Street East and 27th Street East corridors. All have environmental challenges to overcome, and the 27th Street location would require new roadway infrastructure in Palmetto to meet the demand.
And that’s not all to consider, warned Lawrence Massey, FDOT District One coordinator. The farther you get away from downtown Bradenton, Massey said, the less impact a third bridge would have on reducing congestion.
So the question is, is a third bridge the solution, or should it just be better bridges? There are 35,000 motor vehicles daily crossing the Green Bridge and 64,500 cross DeSoto. By 2040, the Green Bridge could add 11,000 more daily motorists, while the DeSoto Bridge could see more than 100,000.
However, one third of today’s motorists don’t stop in or start from Palmetto or Bradenton, and yet they inject themselves into the daily congestion.
The problem gets even worse on days like Tuesday, when a major morning crash on Interstate 75 diverted traffic to U.S. 41 and the two bridges.
“We believe we have a solution,” Lacey said. When the DeSoto Bridge is replaced, that plan calls for building an elevated bridge with lanes that will allow local traffic to get off, and those “just driving through” to keep right on going over an upper level away from downtown.
The study shows such a bridge could reduce traffic delays by 51 percent on the DeSoto Bridge and 39 percent on the Green Bridge. The DeSoto Bridge is 10 years away from replacement.
In the short term, the study concluded there are simpler options to ease congestion in the downtown area. One idea is to switch the one-way directions of Manatee Avenue and Sixth Avenue using Third Street West as a “control valve” to begin directing traffic into a circular pattern around downtown, according to Greg Moore, deputy project manager.
Adding a traffic signal at Third Street West and Manatee Avenue West, eliminating left-hand turn lanes, extending the westbound traffic off of Ninth Street West seeking to get on Manatee, and improving the efficiency of existing signals is a more probable short-term solution, Moore said. Traffic models show anywhere from an 11 percent to 16 percent reduction in traffic delays.
Economic Development Director Carl Callahan said the council will have to consider that the downtown plan is “contradictory to our walkable friendly plans we have for the entire downtown area.”
The Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis is nearing the end of its second phase, but more public input will be asked for in the coming months. Massey said they want to get it down to three viable options before conducting a project development and environment study, which will help determine viability, costs and sources of funding.