Consultant: More traffic in future

MANATEE — Traffic will get worse on local roads in the next quarter-century, but some roads likely to become the most congested might be a surprise to some, an Orlando consultant said Monday.

Traffic congestion in Manatee and Sarasota counties is expected to be 20 percent worse, on average, in the year 2035, said Whit Blanton of Renaissance Planning Group.

“It’s a little less in Sarasota County and a little more in Manatee County,” he said after the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization’s monthly meeting.

Several major Manatee roads, such as portions of Interstate 75 and State Roads 64 and 70, are projected to become “severely congested” — carrying at least 20 percent more traffic than they were designed to handle, according to a map he presented to the MPO. But that list also will include several roads that now carry much less traffic, such as Erie Road, Rye Road and River Club Boulevard.

Blanton created the map as part of an ongoing update to the MPO’s long-range transportation plan. The MPO is a board of elected officials that sets priorities and oversees planning for transportation in both counties.

The map will be displayed during a pair of public workshops in late April, Blanton said. The workshops are designed to get public input on what projects should be done to handle the increased congestion.

The 25-year plan is expected to be adopted by the end of this year.

Also Monday, the MPO concurred with the two county administrators’ recommendation to suspend talks on merging Manatee County Area Transit and Sarasota County Area Transit. The administrators, Ed Hunzeker of Manatee and Jim Ley of Sarasota, said the economic and political climates were too uncertain.

But MPO members said they were frustrated by the slow pace of efforts to better link the separate bus systems. They said MCAT and SCAT should roll out a universal fare card and make each county’s route map available in the other county, especially along a U.S. 41 route that the counties jointly operate.

“If we can’t distribute our bus schedules bilaterally, shame on us,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, an MPO member.

They also agreed to look into possibly affixing decals on the U.S. 41 route’s buses to raise public awareness of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The authority is tasked with planning and implementing a comprehensive transportation system for the seven-county region.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.