It will be a test of technology against common sense, and only time will reveal the winner as the Florida Department of Transportation outlines a plan to relieve traffic congestion over the Green and DeSoto bridges.
The proposal is part of a short-term traffic solution as the debate continues on whether to build an elevated bridge replacement for the DeSoto Bridge or find a location for a third bridge. The plan does not address southbound traffic from Palmetto into Bradenton, other than to eliminate the southbound outside right-hand turn lane onto Manatee Avenue heading east. That would make another through lane.
FDOT admits the plan will create delays for drivers destined for downtown Bradenton. But the traffic engineers say it will take 560 vehicles during peak traffic hours away from the area’s two worst congestion points, benefiting more than 7,000 vehicles in the same time periods who just want to cross the bridges.
The congestion choke points they want to relieve are the Manatee Avenue and Sixth Avenue intersections at both First Street and Ninth Street.
For the DeSoto Bridge, FDOT plans to eliminate the outside left-hand turn lane at First Street and Manatee Avenue, and force northbound traffic heading for downtown to divert much earlier at Ninth Avenue West. Traffic would continue west on Ninth, then turn north onto Third Street West and regain entry onto Manatee Avenue. The proposal includes street improvements and adding traffic signals on Third Street West at both Sixth Avenue and Manatee Avenue, something FDOT officials say will be necessary given the amount of traffic that will be diverted.
The FDOT models show it will relieve the DeSoto Bridge congestion point, but what it does to downtown traffic by diverting more vehicles onto smaller roads remains to be seen. And adding traffic signals could compound the already-congested east-west traffic in and out of Bradenton on Sixth and Manatee. FDOT insists the delay to drivers would be less than a minute.
City officials aren’t so sure, but have agreed to provide FDOT with a resolution in early February to further design the proposal. The resolution is not a final approval.
To relieve the Green Bridge choke points on Ninth Street West at Manatee Avenue and Sixth Avenue, the proposal is for those northbound drivers seeking to get into downtown to turn right onto Sixth Avenue West, then north on Eighth Avenue West and gain re-entry onto Manatee Avenue into downtown. The design essentially forces drivers to do a loop around one block to help ease bridge traffic trying to get through.
Much is left to do in the design phase, given the volume of traffic that uses the turn lanes on First Street onto Manatee Avenue, and how that traffic will fit into a single turn lane at Ninth Avenue West. It will force 560 cars during peak traffic times down a skinny Third Street West, and drivers will have to sit through two traffic lights to get into downtown.
“We haven’t developed those concepts into projects we can discuss today,” said Lawrence Massey, FDOT District One project manager. He did say that potential backup areas would be addressed in the design phase.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith is skeptical, noting he would like to see the “magical trick” FDOT has to make the plan work.
“All the folks going east and west are going to feel the pain and will take longer,” Smith said. “At some point, traffic will be backed up at that new Third Street light. The more traffic you put on side streets, the more you are slowing them down.”
Ward 2 Councilman Patrick Roff says the plan makes sense.
“This is going to work,” he said. “One of the strengths the city has is our grid system, and we have an underutilized grid system.”
I pray to God they don’t make it worse.
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith
FDOT doesn’t appear to agree that the city has a strong network, calling Bradenton’s grid “chopped up.” But Massey said the short-term project “is low-hanging fruit that will provide significant relief, as much as 10 to 12 percent throughout the network. This is something that we can do for you very soon, at a minimal cost compared to the bridge, which is at least 10 years away. There’s nothing we can do to make that happen faster, but we can implement these short-term improvements until the long-term can be constructed.”
Vice Mayor Gene Brown has expressed concern about this plan’s unforeseen impacts. If drivers don’t use Third Street as an access point back onto Manatee Avenue, Brown says, then a new choke point could be created at Ninth Street West and Ninth Avenue West.
“Are we setting ourselves up in a way where we are creating unintended consequences further down?” he questioned.
Adequate signage would be put in place to designate the preferred route, Massey says. At the same time, he acknowledged, “Folks will try different things until they find what works best.”
The council has reached a consensus to approve a resolution in early February, more of out curiosity to see how FDOT can handle some obvious concerns.
“But I pray to God they don’t make it worse,” Smith said.