When the Florida Department of Transportation’s consultant team returns to update Bradenton officials in January about how to ease traffic congestion, it may not be a happy New Year for them.
The consultant team working on the Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis has presented options of where a possible third bridge over the Manatee River could be located. It also has suggested building an elevated “flyover” thoroughfare over the Desoto Bridge allowing the 33 percent of vehicles that pass through to avoid the local traffic network.
Presentations have been ongoing and updates will continue, but is the public getting the entire story? Planning and Community Development Director Catherine Hartley has regular phone calls with the team and she said the whole story is not being told.
“I would advise caution with the FDOT project,” she said. “What concerns me are not the things they say, but what they don’t say. For example, how will this be paid for? Well, I’ve heard conversations about a possible toll, but I know that hasn’t been said to you. They have also said to me on the phone that if politics weren’t involved they would run this through Ware’s Creek. This project concerns me a lot.”
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The flyover proposal has been at the top of the recommendations thus far because the three locations to build a new bridge have significant environmental and economical challenges to overcome. Vice Mayor Patrick Roff said he’s had enough of the consultants.
“There are three players in this,” Roff said. “The (Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization), which looks out for our interest and FDOT, which wants what FDOT wants. The third player is the consultants and I’m not pleased with the attitude of this consultant team. They are the second team doing this because the first was fired and I’m not happy with their attitude at all. They seem to think they are the big cheese and are going to tell us what it is. I think they are in for a rude awakening in January.”
Roff’s comments exposed some division on the council as to how the city will eventually move forward. Councilman Bemis Smith said the proposed locations for a new bridge, which are 15th Street East, Ninth Street East and 27th Street East, all in Smith’s Ward 4, have “people screaming at me all the time. If you try to put a major thoroughfare over a historical park, you are going to get significant backlash.”
But Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. said no one seems to have an issue with the Desoto proposal “cutting in half a historical black community.”
Mayor Wayne Poston reminded his council that, “While you represent wards, we also represent the entire city.”