MANATEE -- After some local leaders expressed concerns that yet another traffic study would not be implemented, a regional transportation board decided to move forward with a study of possible improvements to relieve traffic congestion between Manatee-Sarasota and barrier islands.
The Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is made up of elected officials from Manatee and Sarasota counties, elected Monday to proceed with a Sarasota/Manatee Barrier Islands study. Florida Department of Transportation estimated the cost of the study to be $675,000.
Citing previous studies that recommended steps like park-and-ride lots that have yet to be implemented, this study "can be of significant value in identifying additional short term operational improvements and also the value of prioritizing and more importantly implementing needed longer term improvements," said David Hutchinson, MPO executive director.
While they aren't building new capacity in the road system, Hutchinson said, "longer term a systemic multimodal approach will be needed."
Billy Hattaway, FDOT District One secretary, said most of the previous studies were primarily focused on the St. Armands Circle area.
"I think what we have been asked to do is much more comprehensive than that," he said. "We know that there is congestion. We know it is a popular destination, but until you know what is contributing to the circulation issues you are basically guessing."
As part of the study, the barrier islands would be split into three study areas: Anna Maria and Holmes Beach; Coquina Beach and Bradenton Beach; and Longboat Key, St. Armands Circle and Lido Key. FDOT estimated it would take approximately 1,500 hours of work for each study area.
Jack Daly, a Longboat Key commissioner, said the issue is not unique to just the barrier islands in the Manatee and Sarasota area.
"We see not only the benefits with respect to the region here, but we see applicability of a study like this certainly on both coasts," said Daly, who in a letter to FDOT requested its funding support of the study.
Hattaway said he plans to talk with FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold about funding during this week's FDOT district meeting in Tallahassee.
Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said they know the barrier islands have transportation issues and they have to make a commitment to follow through with the study's findings.
"We are known for doing a lot of studies," Baugh said. "We do the studies and then we put them to the side, and we don't do anything except waste money doing the study. ... If we do this, however, we have to look at following through after we get the study or it doesn't do us a bit of good."
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson said the solution is not greater capacity, as they don't have the ability to do that.
"We have to find different ways of doing things," Johnson said. "You can't find a different way of doing something if you don't know what that thing is that you are doing."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.