Islands-mainland traffic study No. 1 major improvement project priority for Manatee-Sarasota

MANATEE -- A study of possible improvements to address seasonal traffic congestion between Manatee-Sarasota and the barrier islands tops the region's major improvement project priority list, local officials decided Monday.

The Island Mobility Study was ranked as No. 1 by the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which consists of elected officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties. During Monday's meeting, the MPO adopted the 2016 project priority lists for Major Improvement, Congestion Management System, Multimodal Emphasis Corridor and Transportation Alternative Projects.

While there is no timeline of when the mainland-to-islands transportation study will begin, Florida Department of Transportation will provide 80 percent of the cost for the study, which FDOT officials have previously estimated to cost $675,000. MPO will provide approximately $135,000 for the study.

"We are so far behind in regard to transportation issues on the barrier island," Commissioner John Chappie said at Monday's MPO meeting. "It is starting to have a negative impact on businesses out there, in particular restaurants."

There were a lot of issues with congestion in coastal areas this tourist season from Bradenton to Naples, FDOT District 1 Secretary Billy Hattaway said Monday.

"We've heard consistent concerns about congestion over the two bridges," Hattaway said.

FDOT is "working consistently to try to accelerate our project process," Hattaway added.

Funding for the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan and an update to the Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trails Masterplan were ranked higher than the Island Mobility study, but the local officials removed those from the priority list, electing to use planning funds instead.

Other projects included in the major improvement project priorities are $1 million for Congestion Management System projects in Manatee County, $3 million for multimodal improvement projects on U.S. 41 in Manatee County and the 15th Street East Complete Streets project. New Manatee County projects included on the MPO project priorities include U.S. 41 Complete Streets from the south county line to Bowlees Creek and countywide CCTV monitoring and vehicle detection devices.

Also on Monday, the MPO:

Endorsed Manatee County's TIGER grant application for a number of projects on Anna Maria Island, including the AMI Sun Trail, improvements to the Coquina North Boat Ramp and stormwater improvements on the southern end of Coquina Beach.

Approved the Brownfields Interlocal Agreement, which creates and administers a Brownfields Assessment Coalition between the MPO, Manatee County, Bradenton and Palmetto.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.

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