Bradenton's Thorntons gas station traffic fix suffers delay

BRADENTON -- Work was expected to begin Oct. 6 to fix a growing traffic concern at the Thorntons gas station at State Road 64 East and 48th Street Court East. But despite city council approval to begin reconfiguring a failed traffic flow design, construction has been delayed -- temporarily.

City officials gathered Braden River Lakes residents together for what was expected to be a final informational meeting Friday and included Hancock Bank executives since the approved design now affects bank entry and exit for the first time since the station opened in July.

The end result was that the city-designed fix to the original design flaws -- designed by Thorntons engineers and approved by the city -- will likely move forward eventually, but not soon enough for Braden River Lakes residents. Public Works Director Claude Tankersley said the original design was just one those rare times where everything looked good on paper, "but obviously it doesn't work."

The problem at the station is its exit/entrance off 48th Street Court East, which is fairly close to the State Road 64 intersection. Tankersley said there were just too many traffic movements at a split between the medians that allow traffic to turn east into the station, north, south or east out of the bank, or north, south or west out of Thorntons, all within one spacing between medians.

The solution Thorntons engineers came up with, and approved by the city, was to install plastic poles to close down the left lane on 48th Street Court East and install a "No left-hand turn" sign to discourage drivers from turning left into the gas station. The idea was to force drivers a few dozen yards to the south to do a U-turn back toward the gas station where they could safely make a right turn.

Motorists have either ignored the sign or have said they did not see it. Any length of time observing traffic negotiate that space shows there are times that allowing four-way traffic through a limited space is not a good idea and residents have cited close calls for accidents and verbal hostilities among drivers trying to figure out who has the right of way are becoming more frequent.

The new design reconfigures the median at a slanted angle where a left turn would only be possible for a driver intentionally disobeying the traffic flow, while allowing Braden River Lakes residents who use Thorntons to make a necessary left hand turn out of the station to head south toward the subdivision.

The new plan eliminates bank customers from crossing 48th Street Court East to head north and get in line to either go straight or turn onto State Road 64. And bank officials are now concerned how that will affect traffic flow through their parking lot and the adjacent office park behind the bank that will now be the source of incoming and outgoing traffic intended for the bank.

Mike Moschella, Hancock area president, said convenience is critical, but so is safety. He didn't object to the city's plan but wants to ensure that it is the correct fix.

"With this plan, we lose a lot of access to the majority of the parking lot our customers use and pushes customers down the street," said Moschella, who said it would make sense to have an independent study done to make sure the city's plan, or another option, is the most viable to the city, Braden River Lakes residents and the bank.

"I know no one wants this to be delayed, but having this done will show what will work and what won't work, and as of now, I think there are so many different views on what the traffic volume really is and where the real problem is."

The notion of a delay didn't sit well with residents.

"I think we've been delayed long enough," said Janette Lawson, president of the Braden River Lakes Homeowners Association. "I've shown this plan to the residents and not a one of them have told me they don't think this will work. I thought this was approved at the last council meeting and everyone I've talked to is eager to go along with these changes."

Tankersley said the only thing the city will do immediately is to remove the plastic bumper poles, as that was one thing everyone agreed to as something that could be done now.

After Friday's meeting at Hancock bank with the public, Tankersley said all parties came to an agreement to move forward with the new traffic design. He could not give a specific date at this time as to when construction will begin, "but as soon as I talk with the contractor, I would hope to begin sometime next week."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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