It’s an antiquated highway carrying ever-growing and dangerous 21st century traffic.
That’s the view of Myakka Fire Chief Danny Cacchiotti of a stretch of two-lane State Road 70 between Lorraine Road at Lakewood Ranch and Myakka City.
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Particularly the portion of the highway that he can see from the fire station at 26636 S.R. 70, where Verna Bethany Road enters from the north and Verna Road enters from the south.
“Over the past year we have had eight accidents here. There were two very serious accidents at the intersection with Verna Bethany Road in the last two weeks, and down here at Verna Road, there were two serious accidents in the past two months,” Cacchiotti said as large trucks roared past on S.R. 70.
Vanessa Baugh, chair of the Sarasota/Manatee Planning Organization, raised the issue Thursday at the monthly MPO meeting at Lakewood Ranch.
With new neighborhoods such as Polo Run, Lakewood National Golf and Country Club, and Del Webb along S.R. 70, speeding traffic has become a big issue.
“We have had several fatalities at Verna Road and State Road 70, and there is only one traffic light from Lorraine Road to Myakka City,” Baugh said. “Maybe we should have a traffic signal at Verna Road. We have a lot of growth and it is a definite issue.”
State Road 64 and State Road 70 until recently were rural roads serving a rural population, MPO board member Betsy Benac said.
“People have to change their behavior in the way that they drive,” Benac said, referring to three roundabouts that are planned for S.R. 64.
The Manatee County Commission has requested the Florida Highway Patrol step up its patrols on S.R. 70 and S. R. 64.
In a letter dated Oct. 23, the county commission wrote the FHP saying that in September, two teenagers were tragically killed and a 12-year-old seriously injured in an accident at State Road 64 and Pope Road.
“This past weekend a 30-year-old man was killed by a drunk driver on S.R. 64 near Verna Bethany Road,” County Commission Chair Priscilla Whisenant Trace wrote.
“As the lead law enforcement agency along state roads, we respectfully ask the Florida Highway Patrol to increase your trooper presence along State Roads 64 and 70, east of Interstate 75. Please have your officers enforce the speed limits to slow traffic and avoid serious accidents,” Whisenant wrote.
Complicating the S.R. 70 issue is that much of it is two lanes across the state. More people are using it as an alternative to Interstate 4, said David Hutchinson, MPO executive director. There are multiple MPOs and Florida Department of Transportation districts in the path of S.R. 70.
FDOT already had plans to widen State Road 70 from two lanes to four lanes between Lorraine Road and County Road 675, but with all the growth in the area, an expansion to six lanes is now envisioned, said FDOT community liaison Jesten Abraham.
A neighborhood meeting to discuss the proposed widening of S.R. 70 is planned for 5-7 p.m. on Dec. 18 at Risen Savior Lutheran Church, 14605 59th Ave. E., Abraham said.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2023, but that is subject to change, Abraham said.
In other business at Thursday’s MPO meeting, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant asked for an update on when work on the Green Bridge between Palmetto and Bradenton will be completed.
FDOT closed one of the southbound lanes in September to widen the pedestrian walkway, causing long traffic back-ups into Palmetto.
Albert Rosenstein, an FDOT staff member who attended Thursday’s meeting, said both south-bound lanes should be open before Christmas.
The MPO’s top priority is replacement of the DeSoto Bridge and building increased traffic capacity between Palmetto and Bradenton.
A proposed flyover, or elevated bridge replacement, has aroused the ire of neighbors who say it would divide neighborhoods, be an eyesore and hurt property values.
FDOT is conducting a project development and environment as it tries to evaluate its options.
Using cell phone data, traffic engineers have been able to determine that one-third of the traffic over the DeSoto Bridge is regional in nature, rather than local.
Leigh Holt, a planner for MPO, said Bluetooth data can help traffic engineers better understand where traffic originates, where it is headed, its frequency and the duration of trips.
That can be valuable in mass transit planning, as well as in designing road networks.