BRADENTON -- At Tuesday's Manatee County Commission workshop, the Manatee County Public Works Department delivered the detailed status report on the 44th Avenue project board members had requested on August 6. Growing concerns from citizens over how, when and even if the project will conclude, were discussed at the meeting, but most of those who attended left with fewer answers than questions.
The 44th Avenue improvements are part of the Manatee County Comprehensive Plan of 1989. Decades ago, county officials knew the east/west corridor to the north (SR64) and the one south (SR70) would not be sufficient due to traffic demand and connectivity.
Since 1989, portions of 44th Avenue, east of the river crossing, have been completed. West of the crossing, there are currently two projects slated to be completed within the next 16 months.
The $61 million (total anticipated cost) venture is broken down into five different projects. Currently, no federal funding is anticipated and county funds will be used. The 44th Avenue project is supported by the MPO traffic model.
Concerns as to how the already crowed parallel avenues will handle the detoured traffic during construction, and whether characteristics of the approved plans will be compromised for lack of funding or other reasons, were questions that citizens brought to the workshop.
Loretto Sadkin, one of the citizens who chose to sit at the round table with commissioners to discuss the perplexed issues concerning the projects, insisted citizens are not notified after a decision is made, but that they are at the table to approve those decisions the first time around.
The questions were being directed to Ron Schulhofer, Director of Public Works, and there were plenty of them.
- Where is the traffic study?
- Why are there two roundabouts, just a quarter of a mile apart?
- Do we have a baseline of the traffic on 45th Street?
- Can you tell me what step one is?
- When will the construction start and what is the timeline for completion?
Schulhofer reassured them saying, "We have pledged to keep you informed, and we are here to hear your questions." Some answers were provided, but uncertainty to when consultants would come aboard and which section would be impacted first and foremost, couldn't be answered at Tuesday's workshop.
Some residents are fed up with the complete idea of 44th becoming a well-traveled multi-lane corridor and have suggested a great deal of money and many headaches would be remedied if the proposed changes stopped at U.S. 301, partitioning the east segment of 44th from the massive havoc and confusion that has flowed from the project.
Even though the project is said to have secured funding, the county will be financing the large amount to complete the venture. Just how much and where it will all come from is still not clear.
There is still the "bridge" issues to deal with; whether there will be an EA (Environmental Assessment) or an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) required after the USCG (Coast Guard) does its assessment.
In all fairness, Schulhofer and his team at public works have performed well at dealing with the fickle nature of the changing county commission requests and keeping the many different requests from concerned residents on the same page.
Another workshop will be forthcoming.