HOLMES BEACH — Drivers crossing the Anna Maria Island bridge may have noticed a recent speed limit change.
The slowdown going in and out of Holmes Beach via Manatee Avenue isn’t all due to extra traffic. Beginning Jan. 30, the speed limit from the Manatee Public Beach on Manatee Avenue to the Anna Maria Island Bridge was slowed to 25 mph. Speed across the bridge was slowed from 45 to 35 mph.
Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer, who also serves as the city’s traffic engineer, reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation in 2015 and again in 2016 about reducing the speed limit along the quarter-mile stretch of road in Holmes Beach. The state agency responded by lowering not only the speed on the stretch of Island road, but also across the bridge on the approach to Holmes Beach.
Tokajer said his primary reason for requesting the change is increased safety on a shared road. With the road frequented by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, he said the speed limit needed to be lowered to help prevent accidents. Another reason for the slow down is the amount of traffic going in and out of Kingfish boat ramp.
“You can’t put a cross walk on a bridge, so we have to slow people down,” Tokajer said. “It’s dangerous for people to come over that bridge at high speeds. Our whole thing is public safety.”
The final speed limit determination was made by FDOT because Manatee Avenue is a state road.
In his opinion, Tokajer said the speed limit slow down was not expected to increase traffic congestion in the area. He said the public response he’s received to the change has been primarily positive.
However, that’s not the reaction Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore has received. In a letter sent to Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson on Sunday, Feb. 5 and obtained by The Sun on Monday, Feb. 6, Whitmore said she fielded calls all last week from people angry over the speed limit reduction.
“You have a lot of islanders that are very upset,” Whitmore wrote, adding that she was concerned that no notice was given to residents before the change was made.
“I don’t think the speed limit can be reduced on a state road to 25 mph without public input,” Whitmore wrote. “I do not recall any public meetings regarding this action by the city.
“I don’t believe this was a safety issue, personally,” she concluded.
After The Sun posted on its Facebook page a video from Tokajer explaining the speed limit reduction to social media, comments were mixed with a few concerned that the change was to create a speed trap in the area.
While motorists become accustomed to the change, Tokajer said officers will be issuing warnings for minor violations.
Island resident Kelly Smith said the reduced speed limit contributed to an added 30 minutes to her commute off-island.
However, Capt. Mark Howard, owner of SumoTime Fishing Charters of Anna Maria Island, commented that he supports an Island-wide reduced speed limit.
For his part, Tokajer said he hopes motorists abide by the new speed limit and safely share the road.
“You’re in paradise, slow down and enjoy the view,” he said.