MANATEE -- A $1.6 million construction project is slated to start Monday along U.S. 41, designed to improve safety for drivers and pedestrians along a corridor infamous for congestion and a high accident rate.
Completion of the project, funded with federal and state dollars, is expected in the fall.
Florida Department of Transportation will be making intersection improvements, updating traffic signals and installing lighting, and adding 10 pedestrian "refuge islands" from Cortez Road south to 69th Avenue West along busy U.S. 41.
"The islands are needed to help reduce conflicts between motorists and pedestrians along this busy corridor," said FDOT communications specialist Robin Stublen.
The raised islands at an intersection or in the median at midblock provide a safe place for pedestrians to stop, and make them more visible to motorists, according to an FDOT flier about the project.
When used properly, such islands can reduce pedestrian crashes by 46 percent and motor vehicle crashes by up to 39 percent, it said.
U.S. 41, also known as Tamiami Trail, is a six-lane, undivided urban roadway with an 11-foot bi-directional center turn lane, where the refuge islands are to be located. In 2013, the area recorded 132 crashes, with 114 injuries and 1 fatality, according to the latest statistics provided by FDOT.
Intersections to be updated with new traffic signals and aids for the handicapped include 53rd Avenue West (State Road 70); 57th
Avenue West; 60th Avenue West, and 69th Avenue West.
New lighting will be installed at the intersection at 53rd Avenue West, and pedestrian improvements will go in at 57th Avenue West.
Pedestrian islands are slated to be built in the following places:
Two north of 51st Drive, across from Lincoln Arms Mobile Homes, Pizza Hut and Volkswagen
One south of 51st Drive across from Touch of Class
One north of 55th Avenue West across from Georgia Carpet World and Cash America Pawn Shop
One north of 57th Avenue West, across from Bradenton Honda
One south of 57th Avenue West across from Iberia Bank
One south of 60th Avenue West across from Tire Kingdom
Three north of 68th Avenue West across from Quality Inn, Alex Karras Used Cars, Bayshore Baptist Church and Gettel Toyota
Access to businesses along the construction zone will be maintained at all times, Stublen said.
"We are happy to address specific concerns with business owners while construction is under way," he said.
Alan Patel was one business owner who wanted to know the exact location of the pedestrian island slated for a spot near his hotel at 6727 14th Ave. W.
"We're concerned about traffic problems and delays," Patel said last week, noting that truckers who use the hotel might block lanes of traffic when they're turning into the hotel, should an island be built directly in front. And when they pulled out of the hotel, they would be unable to turn south, Patel said.
FDOT's Stublen said Friday that the design for the pedestrian islands will not hamper access to the hotel in any way.
"The pedestrian island directly in front of the building will not block any driveway," said Stublen.
"During the design process we can tweak the plans to accommodate business owners, and we do," he emphasized. "We would never intentionally block any establishment."
Ellen Walther, a public relations representative for the Gettel Automotive Family of Dealerships, predicted that the pedestrian islands north of 68th Avenue West would pose no problem for Gettel Automotive, at 6423 14th St. W.
"Expansion is good; we welcome the progress on 41, and will be open for business and will accommodate all our customers," she said.
Single-lane, nighttime closures will be permitted between 7 p.m.-6 a.m., within 600 feet of a signalized intersection. Outside of the signalized intersections, single-lane closures will be allowed from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., as well as from 7 p.m.-6 a.m., officials said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.