BRADENTON -- A divided Bradenton City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday to proceed with fixing growing traffic concerns at Thorntons gas station on State Road 64 and 48th Street Court East.
Councilmembers Gene Gallo, Patrick Roth and Harold Byrd voted in favor. Councilmembers Bemis Smith and Gene Brown voted against.
Council members were unanimous in agreeing a problem exists and a speedy resolution is needed to fix a confusing traffic flow problem, but disagreed to how much the city should spend compared with Thorntons, which generated the faulty design.
Thorntons representatives were unable to be reached for comment.
City officials say discussion have gone back and forth on whether Thorntons would pay to fix the problem or simply
contribute to the estimated $35,000 needed to fix what has become a hotbed for illegal turns since Thorntons opened in July.
Drivers exiting south off S.R. 64 are not supposed to turn left to enter the station. Traffic flow design uses striping, delineators and no-left-turn signs to discourage drivers from turning left and help prevent possible accidents with vehicles exiting the gas station in the same space to head toward the Braden River Lakes subdivision.
A third factor involves vehicles exiting the Hancock Bank parking lot across the street, which turn left heading north toward the nearby S.R. 64 intersection.
The problem: No one is supposed to turn left out of the bank and signs directing drivers not to turn right out of Thorntons or left into Thorntons are being ignored.
So, apparently, are the majority of drivers who negotiate the entrance/exit area of the store. Virtually every motorist ignores the posted signs.
Public Works Director Claude Tankersley presented possible solutions Monday to the Bradenton City Council. After a lengthy discussion, the council agreed to eliminate left turns out of the bank, which will force motorists to use the southernmost exit from the shopping center where it will be easier and safer to head north back toward S.R. 64.
To achieve better traffic flow, one of the southernmost medians will be cut in half to allow through traffic. The northernmost median where drivers are ignoring the no-left-turn signs to enter Thorntons will be extended and slanted with added directional painting ensuring only motorists exiting Thorntons southbound toward Braden River Lakes are able to use the turn lane.
This would force drivers seeking entry into the station off S.R. 64 to drive a few more feet south to where they can U-turn back toward the station.
The disagreement erupted when Vice Mayor Smith moved to allow city staff to work with the contractor to begin the project by Oct. 6. Smith wanted to cap city spending at $25,000 and the project would be contingent on whether Thorntons would contribute the remaining $10,000.
Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown said it was his understanding Thorntons would pay for the entire project.
Smith said he just wanted to get a motion to move the project forward, but wanted to ensure the city and Thorntons work together financially to fix the problem. The motion died for lack of a second.
Ward 1 Councilman Gallo moved to authorize the city to move forward on the project and "strongly suggest" Thorntons partner with the city, but did not establish an amount in the motion, which passed with Smith and Brown voting no.
Tankersley said, with a motion to approve the suggested design, work could begin Oct. 6 "and only take a couple of weeks."
While the city agreed to move forward with no financial commitment from Thorntons, council members expressed faith Thorntons would continue to be a good neighbor and do the right thing.