There is a lot on the minds of Parrish residents.
The lack of a sanitary sewer in much of the heart of the historic village, worry about the 23,000 homes coming to the area, and scant shopping and dining venues, to name a few.
But Thursday night, as several hundred people converged on the sanctuary of Parrish United Methodist Church, just a few feet from where 22-year-old Ashley Rhodes died in a car crash last June, uppermost was the demand for a fully functioning traffic signal at the intersection of County Road 675 and U.S. 301.
Keith Slater, a traffic engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, briefed the crowd on what the state has planned for the intersection, considered the most dangerous in the Parrish Fire District.
Those plans don’t include a fully operational traffic signal to replace an existing flashing beacon, at least not anytime soon, Slater said.
That’s because traffic counts at the roads which feed into the intersection — 69th Street and C.R. 675 — don’t support a fully operational traffic signal there.
Instead, Slater proposes to add a new concrete median that would run down the center of U.S. 301 at C.R. 675 to 71st Street East.
Also proposed: A new northbound left turn lane onto 71st Street, a southbound left turn lane onto C.R. 675, and a new acceleration/merge lane for vehicles turning left out of C.R. 675 to go south on U.S. 301.
Those changes would have prevented the accident that claimed Rhodes’ life, Slater said.
The improvements, which would cost about $325,000, should begin in the fall of 2020, Slater said.
Traffic signals often create more crashes and FDOT looks for other solutions before considering traffic signals.
Slater’s presentation did not sit well with residents, with the tone of the meeting turning raucous and angry.
“The need is now. You’re not really taking care of anything that needs to be done now,” one woman in the audience said.
Another Parrish resident urged FDOT to “stop cheaping out” and asked, “Will any of this dialogue influence the decision or is it already set?”
Slater responded that FDOT’s proposed changes have nothing to do with cost, were never intended as an end-all, and that other plans are in the works to improve safety and handle future traffic flow in Parrish.
The meeting became so heated at one point that County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace, who invited FDOT to present its findings on the intersection, stood and asked the crowd to remain civil and friendly.
“I don’t agree with the man,” Whisenant said, reflecting the sentiment in the room. But, she said, Slater was only doing his job, and she would close the meeting if audience members continued to berate him.
Gretchen Fowler, president of the Parrish Civic Association, said she was not surprised at the way the meeting turned out.
The proposed improvements would require motorists traveling west on C.R. 675 who are headed to Parrish United Methodist Church or to the Parrish Post Office to take a circuitous route to reach their destination, she said.
Those motorists would have to make a right-hand turn onto northbound U.S. 301 and then make a left-hand turn onto one of Parrish’s narrow one-lane residential streets before turning south to get to their destination.
“If this is going to happen — and it will help — can you work on a way with us to get to the post office without having to go north and then south?” Fowler asked.
Chad Butzow, Manatee County’s interim public works director, said what Parrish residents haven’t heard is the overview of planned improvements, involving the county, the school district and developers that will address traffic issues, including the extension of Fort Hamer Road which will provide safe access to the new schools under construction in the community.
“A lot of things are happening. It’s not just FDOT in a vacuum,” Butzow said.