BRADENTON -- The Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 15th Street East intersection improvements -- featuring a new roundabout -- are scheduled for the spring of 2018, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Justin Reck, FDOT project manager, said the installation of a roundabout to replace the existing traffic signal will cost about $1 million. FDOT held a public meeting in June at the intersection under a tent. Despite the summer sun, 41 people attended the presentation. Of 14 comment cards submitted, nine either preferred the roundabout over the existing signal or had no issue with either proposal.
"It will improve traffic flow and pedestrian and bicycle safety," said Reck, who noted significant cost savings by eliminating traffic signals in favor of roundabouts. Traffic lights, he said, cost money in both electricity and maintenance.
According to FDOT statistics, roundabouts reduce fatal accidents by 90 percent compared to traditional traffic signals. Injuries are reduced by 76 percent and overall crashes are reduced by 36 percent.
The intersection at MLK and 15th Street East is a prob
lem area for traffic traveling west on MLK and wanting to turn south. With no turn lane in the single southbound lane, vehicles wanting to continue west are often stuck behind vehicles trying to turn south onto 15th as sometimes heavy traffic travels east. Drivers can sit through two or more light changes trying to travel west through the intersection.
Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. attended the June meeting with FDOT and heard a lot of concern about the proposal to install a roundabout, which tends to be unpopular. Byrd asked FDOT to conduct a second public meeting, which Reck said also was well attended.
"This is something new to this area and I wanted to make sure the public had the opportunity to have their questions answered," said Byrd. "The thing I've pushed for the most, which everybody wants, is to see improvements in the aesthetics of that intersection."
Reck said the roundabout will feature red bricks and a center island landscaped with yellow flowering peanut grass and palm trees.
Byrd said he wasn't convinced southbound traffic on MLK would not still have issues, but that FDOT's explanation and presentations have given him more confidence. Reck said nationwide, more than 5,000 intersections have made the transition from traditional signal lighting to roundabouts.
According to Robin Stublen, FDOT communications specialist, the MLK and 15th Street East project is a separate project from the ongoing planning for a complete overhaul of 15th Street East. Stublen said that project is part of a Manatee County project FDOT is helping design.
"This one is all about traffic flow and correcting the backups that take place at that intersection," said Stublen. "It is scheduled for 2018 as part of our five-year work program, which means it's not set in stone. It is in design now so it is likely."
FDOT plans to shift the intersection to make room for the roundabout. That means some land acquisition work is now starting, Stublen said.
"That's what will take the most time, which is why it's scheduled for 2018," he said.
Reck said land acquisitions could cost as much as $690,000 bringing the project's total costs closer to $1.7 million.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.