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‘We need help.’ Residents say construction woes are just tip of larger community issue

Dealing with the frustration related to construction delays, detours and other inconveniences have been more constant than normal lately with Bradenton undergoing some growing pains.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city grew by more than 4,000 residents from 2010 through 2017, with the last population number standing at 53,654.

Bradenton also is the youngest demographic in the Bradenton to North Port region with an average age of 42.9 years old.

As successful programs continue to attract and retain millennials — in conjunction with city economic development strategies to attract new business — more housing is needed and is rapidly being developed across Manatee County.

Some areas are better suited to handle the influx of more people, but it also means more traffic is heading somewhere other than just around a single neighborhood.

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The assumption might be that development is good. More construction means more tax money, but some residents in Ward 5 recognize the cycle that development — more people and more traffic — comes before the funds accrued to improve infrastructure and “traffic” woes have been discussed for decades, according to city records.

The roundabout project at Ninth Avenue East and 15th Street East is at the heart of the latest concerns in east Bradenton as detours pour traffic into residential neighborhoods. While it’s a construction issue for now, residents say it’s a sign of things to come if development isn’t controlled.

“Roads are being destroyed by the new traffic and all the school buses that come in and out of one of the most historic urban corridors,” said Keenan Wooten, recently appointed to hold the minority seat on the MPO advisory committee. “We need help.”

Mail boxes have been knocked down, sidewalks cracked and at least one sewage line crushed, according to Wooten.

The $2.1 million roundabout project includes new road lighting, resurfacing, sidewalk construction and signage. A partial road opening, providing some relief, is expected by early February, but the full opening isn’t scheduled until late March to early April with the entire project expected to be done by late April.

FDOT spokesman Brian Rick said any damage issues related to the project will be addressed before FDOT accepts the final product.

“Prior to construction beginning, the project team videotaped the projected limits, including the detour route,” Rick said. “Any damages sustained as a direct result of construction will be addressed prior to the project being final accepted. Any pre-existing damages that are not included as improvements in this project would be the responsibility of the maintaining agency to fix.”

Rick said the project team has been responsive to all complaints received during construction and will continue to do so until the project is complete, but Wooten said what’s happening to those older neighborhoods now will continue to happen as development continues and, “No one seems to care.”

Wooten said it’s time FDOT, the city and the county begin to pay attention to those areas of east Bradenton that he said consistently get ignored when it comes to infrastructure improvements and planning for the future.

If not, “It’s going to be a mad house,” he said. “We want more engagement and more reaching out to the people that stay in District 2 and Ward 5.”

Wooten, who lost a close election to sitting Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. in the 2016 election, said it’s time to have more minority voices at the table, “So we can speak for the people because it’s impossible for citizens in Ward 5 to get to city council meetings.”

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Some residents in east Bradenton say the roundabout construction woes are just the tip of a larger infrastructure problem that has gone ignored far too long in their community. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Wooten said with all the new development, “Transportation needs to be better. A lot of these neighborhoods are one way in and one way out and roads are not designed for a whole bunch of housing. Are we going to get any relief DOT? The city of Bradenton? This isn’t a political thing. It’s a neighborhood thing.”

It can be easy to have a different view when looking in from the outside, Byrd noted, but as someone involved in the everyday process, “Those concerns were fully addressed and we were very aware of the repercussions of that kind of traffic on low volume residential streets.”

Byrd said that ultimately FDOT could not find another way to detour traffic and once the project is done, residents will see the benefit of the improvements.

Like in all the city wards, growth is good, “But smart growth is the solution,” Byrd said. “There is a lot going into finding those short, middle and long-term traffic solutions. We have to make sure, while we applaud growth, that it is smart and we make the decisions that are best for everyone.”

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Some residents in east Bradenton say the roundabout construction woes are just the tip of a larger infrastructure problem that has gone ignored far too long in their community. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Byrd said he understands the concerns because the city went from little growth two years ago to the perception of over developing all at once. East Bradenton isn’t to the point as the city’s downtown core, but Byrd said it’s not being neglected.

He said his agenda when taking office was to get more affordable housing and with development comes not only the improvements, but also the important aspects of removing the blight associated with redevelopment.

“Those things are taking place,” Byrd said. “As far as infrastructure, I live in the eastern shadow of Tropicana and have my own drainage issues, but there is a public works plan in place to begin addressing that kind of infrastructure. You can’t snap your fingers and expect it to happen. It’s a political process and takes a concentrated effort from the majority.

“Right now the focus has been downtown Bradenton and to expand out from there. But my goal is to put that same kind of emphasis into wards like mine and Ward 3 that are older communities. We want new housing, more workforce housing and we have those moderate to long-term goals to make sure we have a city where people will love to come and work and reside, but you can’t just pump millions of dollars into an area without a plan to make sure that happens.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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