MANATEE — A potential new Manatee River bridge between Bradenton and either Palmetto or Ellenton is back on the table, a local transportation board said Monday.
The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization said the possible bridge is its first choice for alleviating projected traffic congestion on U.S. 41 in the next quarter-century. In doing so, the board rejected potentially building overpasses at several U.S. 41 intersections or elevating the road.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t at least look at another bridge,” said Bradenton Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, the MPO’s chairwoman.
A consultant who is updating the MPO’s 25-year transportation plan suggested the new bridge as one way to avoid what he predicted could be “major congestion” on U.S. 41 in the year 2035. Now, three bridges — the DeSoto Bridge on U.S. 41, the Green Bridge on U.S. 41 Business and an I-75 span — carry traffic over the river. But the DeSoto and Green bridges are just a half-mile apart and won’t be able to handle the traffic growth, said consultant Whit Blanton, vice president of Renaissance Planning Group. And widening the I-75 bridge to 10 lanes won’t help U.S. 41 much, he said.
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The new bridge would, he said. So would elevating U.S. 41 or building overpasses at several intersections along the road between Haben Boulevard and the U.S. 301 split near the Tropicana plant, Blanton said.
“There are issues with a new bridge as well as overpasses, but there is a need for more capacity” on U.S. 41, he said.
He said “it’s anybody’s guess” as to where a new bridge would go, but suggested it could launch from an extended Canal Road in Palmetto or from Leffingwell Avenue in Ellenton. It also could be tolled, Blanton said in rekindling the contentious issue.
The idea first surfaced in the 1980s, but the MPO scrapped it in 1995 in favor of eventually widening the DeSoto Bridge. The board revisited the idea a decade later, but again opted against it. But the debate flared up again two years ago, when a fiery gasoline tanker crash closed the southbound I-75 bridge for several weeks.
Barnebey said the resulting gridlock on the other bridges convinced her a new river crossing is needed. She said she would oppose overpasses, saying they “might be more efficient at moving traffic, but they literally destroy communities.”
The potential bridge is part of a needs plan that outlines possible ways to improve 11 major corridors in the two-county region through 2035. The plan also emphasizes mass transit and other non-automobile local traffic on U.S. 41 while steering through-traffic onto U.S. 301 and Honore Avenue.
Blanton now will estimate how much those improvements will cost and present that information to the MPO in October. The board must approve a financially-feasible long-range plan by year’s end. The needs plan and other documents are available at www.mympo.org/mobility-2035.