When it comes to handling traffic, local and state authorities do their best to plan for demand years in advance. In Manatee County, those predictions are being altered.
Among the suggestions county staff presented to the Manatee Board of County Commissioners Tuesday afternoon were lane widening changes, alignment updates, entirely new roads and the removal of a few proposed roads that haven’t been built yet, including a portion of the 44th Avenue East extension.
“It’ll go to the Planning Commission first, but some of the changes are big enough to get questions from the public, so we think being informed could be helpful for you,” Clark Davis, interim deputy director of traffic management, warned commissioners.
The proposed tweaks are based on expected growth and are updates to a previous long-term plan laid out years ago. Even still, some of the changes — especially the one regarding 44th Avenue — gave commissioners pause.
“I’m uncomfortable removing roads from the plan, especially those roads out east,” Commissioner Misty Servia said following the presentation. “That provides a framework for where we’re headed. It has always been very important to know what the needs are going to be for the future and plan for them. Thirty years from now, guys, is going to look much different than it does today.”
A host of her fellow board members agreed, arguing that county staff should keep those roads on the board.
“The comment ‘road removal’ itself concerns me,” said Commissioner Reggie Bellamy. “We do have some extreme concerns in District 2 about roads. I’d like the road identified for potential removal. If we’re going to remove 44th, why are we removing it and what can potentially be thought of next?”
The county has already build out a significant portion of 44th Avenue East, but hurdles remain in constructing a bridge for the road over the Braden River and an overpass over Interstate 75. The project is expected to cost $162 million and be completed by 2024.
In 2018, the latest stretch of the project opened to traffic, from 19th Street Court East to 45th Street East. Work on the low-profile bridge over Braden River is set to begin later this year, at the cost of $89 million, and be finished by 2021. Following that checkpoint, work will begin to connect the road from the 44th Avenue Plaza East in the Creekwood community over I-75 with an overpass bridge.
Staff say the plan is still to keep extending 44th Avenue East to about two miles east of Lorraine Road, but any work past that has been removed from the drawing board for now.
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker clarified that future workshop sessions from the Traffic Management department will discuss the reasons why certain roads were removed from the county’s thoroughfare plan. He hinted that the rationale may be attributed to cost and the county’s future development boundary.
Davis, however, said county staff were willing to follow commissioners guidance and keep the deleted roads on the plan.
“(The old plan for proposed new roads) was done during the boom times when we were expecting growth in that part of the county. The question is do we now expect that as we grow, that’s going to happen again?” Davis asked. “I’m hearing the consensus view from the board is let’s err on the side of caution and keep those roads on the map, so we can certainly prepare the amendment that way and bring it back.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh preferred that path, citing recent traffic accidents as justification for more roads to alleviate pressure, congestion and deadly crashes in her district, which includes Lakewood Ranch and other parts of East Manatee.
“You know all the problems we’re having on State Road 64 and State Road 70 with vehicular traffic, accidents, fatalities and injuries,” Baugh told Davis. “So, I think to take the roads off before coming before this board and giving us a better explanation is a little fast.”
The board wasn’t against of all the proposed changes, though. Commissioner Stephen Jonsson said he was happy to see a pair of planned thoroughfare roads added to the Lake Flores community between 75th Street West and 86th Street West.
“You’ll get no complaints from me there,” he said.
Other changes to the thoroughfare plan center around Manatee County’s future development boundary, which generally runs north-to-south, just west of Lake Manatee. County staff proposed to eliminate roads planned to the east of that line for the sake of keeping that area rural.
Those interested in providing feedback to county staff and commissioners can attend future transportation workshops at a to-be-determined date. There’s also an opportunity to attend the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Southwest Florida 2045 TransForum on Jan. 28 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Venice Community Center, 326 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice.
The $15 event is a chance for residents to hear from Southwest Florida officials about “future transportation needs, including roads and congestion, safe walking and biking and transit,” according to a news release.