DeSoto Bridge replacement now a regional priority

A truck travels over DeSoto Bridge in this file photograph.
A truck travels over DeSoto Bridge in this file photograph. File photo

The replacement of the DeSoto Bridge, which is at the end of its service life, is now a regional project priority.

During Monday’s Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting, the board approved the Regional Project Priorities list for road and trail projects, which included adding the DeSoto Bridge replacement, which is currently unfunded, to a project list with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. Other regional projects on the priority list include a Willow-Ellenton Greenway and the AMI Sun Trail.

“Regional priorities afford us the opportunity to promote and advocate for projects that are regional in nature,” said Leigh Holt, with the MPO. “It allows us to promote our projects on a bigger scale.”

Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said she would like to see boat ramps on the north end of a new bridge.

“Obviously, we are very, very concerned about that corridor and that bridge,” she said. “It is a very timely issue for everyone.”

A Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis, which Florida Department of Transportation is currently conducting, has also identified the need for the bridge to be replaced, according to Dave Hutchinson, MPO executive director.

“This just adds this at a higher regional level,” he said.

The DeSoto Bridge is “worst bridge, I think, we have in Manatee County, and it causes the most backup,” Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said.

“The DeSoto Bridge is past its prime,” she said. “It needs to be replaced. We don’t have a lot of time to play with it.”

Also on Monday, the MPO board:

— Approved amendments to the 2015-16 to 2019-20 Transportation Improvement Program, which includes moving the Interstate 75 at State Road 64 interchange improvements into fiscal year 2017 and increasing the project length to 2.476 miles.

— Adopted the 2016-17 to 2020-21 Transportation Improvement Program.

— Heard a presentation about the Eighth Avenue West pedestrian safety improvement project in Bradenton. The project, which extends from 14th Street West to Ninth Street West, would include medians, crosswalks and dedicated turn lanes. There is a public hearing at 5 p.m. July 14 at Bradenton Council Chambers.

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson