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Detwiler’s is drawing extra traffic to this Palmetto intersection. Is it safe for motorists?

When Detwiler’s Farm Market announced it was going to open its largest store yet in Palmetto, it was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm. Since opening last year, the store’s popularity has exceeded all expectations.

So much so, the traffic entering and leaving Detwiler’s has made its location a challenging place to be for anyone trying to cross U.S. 301 from 16th Avenue East/ Canal Road. Or to enter the store while heading east on U.S. 301.

At about 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the traffic wasn’t bad. The timing of when to shop is something Claudia Bernard has learned.

“I won’t come on a weekend and the traffic definitely gets worse later in the day,” Bernard said. “I come this time of morning every week and it’s not bad. It’s a great store and I love coming here. There is a lot of traffic coming east and has to do a U-turn just up the road and that creates a lot of traffic backup.”

There is no direct left-hand turn lane off of eastbound U.S. 301 heading into Detwiler’s. Drivers who choose not to use Canal Road by the Royal Palm Car Wash, must continue to 19th Avenue East where this is a small lane available to do a U-turn onto westboundU.S. 301. That decision presents a difficult challenge when there is heavy westbound traffic.

Combine that with the ongoing development of the city’s largest housing development — Sanctuary Cove — and a proposed 140-room hotel, restaurant and mini storage facility a few blocks away, and a traffic crisis is looming. Sanctuary Cove has approval for 1,100 units and there is only one exit point — directly across Canal Road onto U.S. 301.

Jim Freeman, city clerk, said it only makes sense for the city to have the state take a closer look before things get out of control. For now, he said, the city has only installed about 20 or so water meters in Sanctuary Cove development.

City officials on Monday made sure to prioritize the stretch of road, particularly at Canal Road and U.S. 301, as a safety issue as part of its annual transportation priority list for the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO will review all of the priorities of each municipality in the counties and then make recommendations to the Florida Department of Transportation.

The roadway wasn’t initially on staff’s recommendations, but Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant pushed that it be added.

“It should be a priority,” said Allen Tusing, public works director. “With Detwiler’s becoming very popular and Sanctuary Cove nearby, that area is not going to get better. It’s going to get worse.”

Manatee County is in the midst of planning improvements to Canal Road and Tusing said the city could leverage dollars with the county, as well as the FDOT to improve access onto U.S. 301.

But that could take awhile.

“I thought they were further along and they aren’t far at all,” Tusing said. “But with the development we have going on, I hope that will spur them on a little faster.”

According to Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach manager, the plans for improving Canal Road are moving forward as scheduled.

“More than $19 million in infrastructure sales tax dollars will be budgeted for Canal Road improvements as part of the county commission’s approved five-year Capital Improvement Program,” Azzara said. “The biggest portion becomes available in 2020, but construction won’t necessarily begin then. There likely will be a 12-to-18-month period where the county will need to acquire land where it’s needed.”

Azzara said the design is in its preliminary stage and what those improvements look like should become clearer by late summer.

For shoppers at Detwiler’s, it’s probably something that should have been addressed much sooner. Dee Astee is another shopper who will only shop during a weekday morning.

“They should have put a left-hand turn in from the beginning,” Astee said. “It’s a crazy amount of people who have to try and make that U-turn and I feel sorry for anyone trying to cross the highway off 16th. They need to have a traffic light there. But if you really want to solve the problem stop letting these people from New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio come here. They are very rude drivers and you can quote me on that.”

City officials juggled the priority list to ensure safety projects were first to be considered for funding. Though the city has several future projects lined up related toits trails system, Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said they should not be the priority this year.

“When we do this resolution and the public looks at this list, they will think this commission is putting the trails system ahead of the obnoxious traffic they deal with every day,” Varnadore said.

The city’s top priorities include the replacement of the Desoto Bridge and the Bradenton/Palmetto connector from 17th Street West in Palmetto to 13th Avenue West in Bradenton. Though the controversial flyover proposal to replace the bridge is still on the table, currently FDOT has the two projects listed separately.

Palmetto is also prioritizing the intersection at U.S. 41 Business and 23rd Street West, which has seen numerous fatal and injury accidents since 2015.

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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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