There are dozens of ideas to sift through when it comes to improving traffic on the barrier islands of Manatee and Sarasota counties and connections to the mainland.
And the Florida Department of Transportation can’t do it alone. More than 100 residents attended the first of several public information workshops for the Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands Traffic Study on Tuesday evening at Longboat Island Chapel.
Zac Burch, a communications manager for FDOT, said that there are numerous ideas to alleviate traffic congestion — and the agency is looking to produce even more.
While FDOT is working with plenty of suggestions, there are only a select few that will be chosen as the most viable options.
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“Public sessions like this one will help guide us the most, but next comes the process of whittling 60 ideas down to five.”
Holmes Beach Police Chief William Tokajer attended the workshop and said not every idea on the boards is going to be “workable,” but said he’s seen a demand for change, and “whatever they end up doing is going to help.”
The results of the study are intended to alleviate heavy traffic congestion and parking issues, even during peak tourist season, which is perfect according to Tokajer.
“The secret’s out. Everyone wants to come see Holmes Beach,” he said. “But we’re trying to fit 100 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag, and we gotta (fix) it fast.”
According to Stantec consulting manager Frank Domingo, FDOT asked his team to think outside the box, “with no limits.” So they did. One of their unusual ideas was an aerial ropeway conveyor that would transport visitors from Sarasota to Lido Key through the air. Stantec is an engineering services company working with FDOT.
As crazy as it sounds, it’s been done before, said Domingo. The Roosevelt Island Tramway in New York carries about 22,000 people a day.
“The difference between us and Roosevelt Island — we have a way better view than they do,” said Domingo, citing the “touristic appeal” that the gondola would bring.
Other plans are more reasonable. Among other things, FDOT is looking at adding parking spaces, making areas more navigable for tourists and tweaking public transit routes.
The areas of interest are broken down into three zones and span from Anna Maria to Lido Key.
The study is only just getting started, and another workshop will be held in the beginning of the year, but Burch said FDOT hopes to have it completed by the fall of 2018.
From there, the department would start implementing some of the smaller changes on the agenda. Bigger projects, such as the proposed aerial ropeway, could take years to secure funding and approval from the proper channels.
Domingo said there’s no cure-all method to alleviate traffic on the islands, but the ones FDOT chooses to implement must work hand-in-hand to achieve the goal.
“It’s not just one silver bullet. It’s a bunch of little options working together.”