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A downtown makeover?

MANATEE — Getting around Bradenton’s and Palmetto’s downtowns could be vastly different in the future, if a study’s draft recommendations are implemented.

Drivers would encounter roundabouts, narrower streets and more on-street parking. Pedestrians would have wider sidewalks, more crosswalks and benches. Bicyclists would have more marked bike lanes on major roads. And bus riders would enjoy a downtown trolley, a central transit station and expanded routes.

Those are some of the changes that a nearly completed study is suggesting to make it easier for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to get around in both cities’ downtown areas.

“These are some very transformative proposals,” said Whit Blanton of Renaissance Planning Group, an Orlando consultant that is performing the study in conjunction with both cities. “They could really reshape the area, (and) give the downtowns a signature sense of place.”

But it would be an expensive makeover: An estimated $50.2 million in short-term costs, a figure that doesn’t include potential long-term projects such as another bridge over the Manatee River.

The draft recommendations will be up for review at an upcoming public workshop, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Bradenton Municipal Auditorium, 1005 Barcarotta Blvd.

The Bradenton plan

Most of the major changes are proposed for Bradenton, which has a larger downtown, more people and more traffic congestion. And the biggest one is installing a roundabout at Manatee Avenue West and 15th Street West.

“It would keep traffic moving ... so you wouldn’t have the backups” that now occur because of red lights, Blanton said.

The roundabout also would serve as an entranceway and slow down traffic, thus making downtown more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, he said. But because of its size, it likely would be at least partially built on the former city hall site at the intersection’s southwest corner.

In conjunction with the roundabout, 15th Street would be widened to reroute traffic onto Sixth, Eighth and Ninth avenues west.

Ninth Avenue West would become four lanes between 15th Street West and Nine Street East, with a roundabout envisioned at Ninth Street East. Blanton said that would not turn Ninth Avenue into a bypass, an idea that has generated intense debate and opposition in the past.

“It’s an alternative route,” he said.

Manatee and Sixth avenues would remain one-way streets, avoiding another controversial proposal from the past. But they would look radically different: Two lanes of traffic (instead of three as is the case now) with on-street parking, bike lanes and bus bays between Ninth and 15th streets west.

Another road that could see a similar change is 14th Street West, which the study suggests reducing to three lanes — one of them a continuous center turn lane.

The study also proposes a “transit mall” on 13th Street West between Eighth and Ninth avenues west. The mall would feature a relocated Manatee County Area Transit station with dedicated bus pull-ins/pull-outs.

“It gets buses out of a place nobody wants them to be, next to the (Historic Manatee County) Courthouse, and really provides for a better passenger environment,” Blanton said.

The proposed transit mall would be a stop on an east-west bus or trolley service circulating though Bradenton, primarily on roads parallel to Manatee Avenue.

The Palmetto plan

Palmetto also would see its share of changes, starting with Eighth Avenue West.

The road would be reduced to three lanes — one in each direction, separated by a center turn lane — with bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides from the Green Bridge to north of 17th Street. An early proposal to build a roundabout at Riverside Drive was scrapped.

But the study recommends installing one at Haben Boulevard’s 90-degree turn near Riviera Dunes’ entrance as a long-term project.

Also envisioned: Adding turn lanes at several key intersections, such as 10th Street West’s crossings at Eighth, 10th and 14th avenues west, as well as widening 10th Street west to four lanes between the U.S. 41 overpass and Eighth Avenue.

MCAT’s existing Route 13 would be expanded as well.

A third bridge?

The links between the cities also would be in for some changes.

The study had recommended re-striping the Green Bridge to create a 12-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path on the bridge’s western side. But that would reduce the inside shoulders to as little as two feet, which the Florida Department of Transportation recently said it opposes.

“We’ll have to go back and take another look at that,” Blanton said.

The study also suggested creating two new links in the long-term future: A water taxi that would shuttle among Bradenton’s Twin Dolphin Marina and Palmetto’s Regatta Pointe and Riviera Dunes, and another bridge linking 27th Street East and Ellenton.

The latter has been considered and dropped numerous times since the 1980s, but it might be worth another look as the existing two bridges handle more traffic with little hope of being expanded, Blanton said.

“We’re starting to hear a lot of support from the community for at least reconsidering it,” he said. “I’m not hanging my hat on the bridge. It’s not central to the recommendations for (the year) 2013, but it may be needed for 2035.”

Changes to the draft recommendations could be made based on comments at the Feb. 18 workshop, Blanton said. After the workshop, a final report and recommendations will be prepared and presented to both cities.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.