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Venice Bypass Dominates Manatee/Sarasota MPO Meeting


BRADENTON -- Mr. Daniel Hardy from Renaissance Planning Group, in Washington D.C. delivered what was to be the final say to a plan that has been on the books since 1992. It was the U.S. 41 Venice Bypass "Peer Review," requested from the MPO board back in April of this year. His presentation had all of the graphs, studies, diagrams, pictures and charts to cover all of the options. In it was all of the traffic data needed to do all of the math, including that of alternatives -- almost too much to comprehend in one session.

There were three segments (North, Middle and South) of the corridor, and three options to how they would be developed.

A. Building six lanes on all three segments with traditional signalized or roundabout intersections.

B. Leaving four lanes on all three segments with traditional signalized or roundabout intersections with other modal improvements.

C. Building six lanes on northern two segments, but four lanes on south segment with other modal improvements.

Mr. Hardy performed a comprehensive review of past analysis and traffic data. He included comparative studies to the performance of roundabouts to signals at different densities and speeds. At lower speeds, roundabouts were more effective; four lane more so than six. Signals had their advantage on six lanes with higher speeds. The variables were abundant and complex. 

The different times of day and carrying different volumes also changed the dynamics and performances of the different sized highways, whether it be roundabouts or signals. There was consideration given to attempting to funnel traffic through alternative routes, but all seemed a bit problematic and unable to satisfy predicted growth.

Cost was a big issue and how much funding is available from state and federal sources, beyond what has been designated, is in question. The project, coming from the MTO's long range 2035 plan, had to reflect where the largest growth would arise. The North Port area (South segment) is where most members felt would gather the largest numbers, and if the decision was to go six lanes, all the way from top to bottom, there would have to be some more funds secured. Not a problem, said Secretary Billy Hattaway, from Florida Department of Transportation, adding, "It is a regional issue." 

So many factors needed to be considered. The shortest distance, time spent stopped, speed and any bottlenecking -- all translated to larger footprint, more emissions and alternative vehicle safety. 

The method of constructing each segment, all at once or one at a time, greatly impacts the cost. Surprisingly, securing the right of way could be as costly as the operation and a huge determining factor to just how that affects the budget. Where and how to provide crossings on or around six-lane avenues will be costly, as will as providing bike paths and dealing with the safety issues that surround them both.

Needless to say, there were a lot of comments about the many concerns to the different options. I will spare you from some of the technical conceptual verbiage that came from DOT's special forces and zoom in on the human issue.

Most of the members had good questions that related to the practicality of commuters and budget concerns. Some wanted to push it through to a vote to accept what Hardy's "peer review" group recommended when concluding their presentation, that is: six lanes all the way, with signal intersections. Other board members wanted to sleep on it until the next meeting Jan. 23, 2012. 

I seemed that the one who best framed the whole project and the challenges facing it was Sarasota Commissioner Jon Thaxton. He said, "This cries out for one thing, what do you want your town to be?" Thaxton talked about how the whole discussion was based on how much and how fast traffic can be carried from point A to point B. He referenced John Nolan and how he might see this as regretful. Nolan was commissioned by New York physician Dr. Fred Albee, to build a "model city," Florida's first master planned community back in the 1920s. It had agriculture, industry, commerce, housing and recreation harmoniously coexisting. He was shooting for the quality of life over the quantity. 

The newly chosen vice-chairwoman of the MPO Sarasota Commissioner made a motion to move the decision a month down the road to Jan. 23, and Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash second it. The motion passed 10 to 5 and the meeting was abruptly adjourned, hours past its usual conclusion.

Previous to the Venice Bypass discussion were four votes.

1. The Honorable Palmetto Mayor, Shirley Grover Bryant, was voted in as MPO Chairwoman for 2012.

    The respectful Sarasota Commissioner Nora Patterson was voted in as MPO Vice-Chairwoman for 2012. -- Approved, Unanimous

2. Consent Agenda -- Approved, Unanimous

3. Brownfields Interlocal Agreement (BIA)

The MPO Board will adopt the BIA to complete the implementation of the $1 million Assessment Grant. -- Approved, Unamious

4. 2012 MPO Legislative Policy and Issues

 MPO Board will review the recommendations of the MPO Board's Legislative Policy and Issue Committee and adopt the 2012 position. -- Approved, Unanimous  


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