Transportation planners seek new Manatee River bridge

MANATEE — Transportation planners seek new Manatee River bridge.  A four-lane bridge over the Manatee River, expansion of Interstate 75 to 10 lanes and widening of Fort Hamer Road are among Manatee County’s roadway needs.

The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan Needs Plan on Monday. The plan “identifies all transportation projects that are necessary to meet identified future transportation demand, or advance the adopted goals, objectives and policies of the MPO board,” according to agenda materials.

The new bridge would be east of the existing DeSoto Bridge, connecting U.S. 301 in Ellenton to Bradenton. Other roadway improvements in the Manatee plan include some in the Parrish area, such as Moccasin Wallow Road and Fort Hamer Road, where a lot of growth is occurring. Construction on the Fort Hamer Bridge is under way, which will connect Parrish with Lakewood Ranch.

Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac expressed her concerns with lack of roadway needs highlighted in Northwest Bradenton and no new transit in the Parrish area.

“That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me,” Benac said.

The MPO board, which consists of elected officials from both Manatee and Sarasota counties, was presented with maps highlighting these needs. The maps excluded projects with specific constraints such as physical or policy as well as projects that are already programmed through the construction phase.

Now with the board’s approval, MPO staff and the Renaissance Planning Group will work on the next phase of the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan — the Financially Feasible Plan, which will come before the board in a first draft in September.

Nick Lepp, with the Renaissance Planning Group, said the needs plan is the “framework or foundation of developing the Financially Feasible Plan.” Bicycle/pedestrian network and transit network needs were also included as part of the needs plan.

Projects will be prioritized based on existing/planned funding commitments, year of need and financial feasibility, according to Lepp.

While included in the 2040 Needs Plan, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said there are traffic issues on State Road 70 in East Manatee that exist today.

“We are having problems on that road as we speak,” Baugh said. “It probably needs to be looked at today. To wait five years or until 2040 just isn’t going to work.”

Also on Monday, the MPO heard a presentation from the Florida Department of Transportation about a project development and environment study for a 4.5-mile stretch of 15th Street East/U.S. 301 Boulevard East from Tallevast Road to U.S. 41. The project improvements would include the addition of a “center two-way left-turn lane, bicycle lanes, wide sidewalks, curb and gutter, pedestrian crossings, street lighting, transit improvements and a closed drainage system,” according to agenda materials. Roundabouts at the major intersections are also being evaluated.

Because it would be multimodal, it presents a lot of opportunities for revitalization.

“It is a key connector between Sarasota and Manatee counties,” Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie said.

Benac said she appreciates the MPO’s help to continue making the project a priority.

“This is an extremely important corridor in our (Southwest Tax Increment Financing) area where we are looking for redevelopment,” Benac said. “This multimodal corridor is going to be extremely important from connection through Manatee County and into Sarasota. We need to continue to keep our eye on the prize and keep moving this forward for funding.”

On Monday, the board also approved incoming MPO executive director David Hutchinson’s three-year employment agreement. Hutchinson, who begins in the role on Sept. 1 following the retirement of Michael Howe, will make $125,000 the first year with a possible 5-percent salary increase each of the subsequent years.

Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter.