Transportation project could transform 15th Street East corridor
MANATEE -- With an entranceway to Manasota Memorial Park and Funeral Home off 15th Street East, general manager Duane LaFollett wanted to find out more about a transportation project that is expected to transform 15th Street East.
"It affects the entranceway into our cemetery," LaFollett said at Thursday's workshop at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church. "Public access is key and safe access is key. We are here to learn what's in store for our road."
Florida Department of Transportation held its second public workshop as part of a development and environment study for a 4.5-mile stretch of 15th Street East/U.S. 301 Boulevard East from Tallevast Road to U.S. 41. Project improvements include widening from two to three lanes, which includes a center two-way left-turn lane; bicycle lanes; sidewalks; pedestrian crossings; bus stop improvements; and street lighting, according to an information board on display. Roundabouts at major intersections are also being evaluated.
Pedestrians and bicyclists have to go onto the grass due to a lack of sidewalks and bike paths along 15th Street East in front of Manasota Memorial Park and Funeral Home, LaFollett said.
"I think it will improve the safety of area for sure," he said. "It will help the overall development in our area."
Beatrice Ziegler, who lives on Tallevast Road, said she wanted to see what they were going to do.
"With me living on Tallevast Road, are they going to use part of my land?" she asked.
Ziegler said she thinks either the signalized intersections or roundabouts would work.
"I think it will kind of beautify it a little more than what it looks like now," she said.
FDOT project manager David Turley said the decision whether to go with roundabouts or signalized intersections will be left up to the county based on the feedback received. The signalized intersection is estimated to cost $61 million while the roundabout is closer to $69 million.
"Roundabouts are a safety improvement," Turley said.
After low turnout from the business community at an August public workshop about the project, FDOT decided to have a second workshop to gather input from the business community.
"We didn't get a lot of business input and as you can see there are a lot of businesses along the corridor," Turley said. "We wanted to make sure we reached everyone involved because public input is very important to us."
Turley said they've received a lot of positive feedback.
"A lot of people like the idea of complete streets," he said.
Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said she is glad FDOT reached out again to get more input.
"People have been very positive when they see project," she said. "Complete streets gives so many other opportunities in an area we hope to see redevelopment."
While in the FDOT adopted five-year work program, the project development and environment study and $5.6 million design phase, which will begin next fiscal year, are the only phases of the project funded, according to Turley.
"The most exciting part I heard here tonight," Benac said, was there is funding for right-of-way purchases and construction in the Manatee County long-range transportation plan. "Not as fast as we would like but hope that (the project) moves to construction," she said.
Stan Schultes, who works at Spark Growth, said he's been getting involved in the urban corridors discussions.
"We are very interested in what we can do to help improve liveability in Manatee County," he said, adding he thinks this project will do that. "The 15th Street East corridor is the ugliest part of Manatee County. If we can make it look like the picture, it will change people's opinion of this part of town."
Schultes said one of the biggest Manatee County issues is it is not bicycle friendly.
"What I've seen here is pretty positive in supporting bicycles in this corridor," he said.
Regardless of whether someone has a business on the corridor, this project affects everyone, Schultes said.
"This could really be a great example of what could be," he said. "This is the right kind of thing to be happening. There's a lot of work to be done but this is the kind of project that will make that happen."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.