Cortez Road roundabout proposed

Cortez Road roundabout proposed
FDOT plans to someday build a roundabout at the west end of the Cortez Bridge. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

BRADENTON BEACH – Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) plans to build a roundabout at Cortez Road and Gulf Drive will remain on hold until officials decide where the span of the new Cortez Bridge will touch down.

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, City Engineer Lynn Burnett provided the Bradenton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) with a project update. Burnett said FDOT typically uses a standard-sized footprint when designing a roundabout but has the capacity to design a smaller roundabout.

“They have the ability to do a smaller footprint that doesn’t meet their DOT design standards. Because of the unique nature of the barrier island, they are going to redo their PDE (Project Development and Environment study) based on that footprint and reassess what right of way needs would be involved,” Burnett said.

Burnett said FDOT officials originally considered fast-tracking the roundabout, but concerns arose about installing it at a cost of more than $1 million without knowing exactly where the touchdown span for the new Cortez Bridge will be when that bridge is built.

Burnett said FDOT officials decided it didn’t make sense to do a “throwaway roundabout” now when they could wait a couple of years to design a roundabout based on the known bridge dimensions.

“That was their recommendation, which I fully support. It doesn’t make sense to start a two-year construct project and wreak havoc on this Island just to turn around and do it again,” Burnett said.

Burnett said FDOT officials might look at minor operational improvements to help address safety and congestion concerns at that intersection in the meantime.

“I want the public to know there’s going to be a lot of input from our residents and visitors here,” CRA member and Mayor John Chappie said of the roundabout design process.

“I also have talked to our police chief with regards to a roundabout and he has some concerns. Our police department needs to be part of this conversation. They are fully aware of the issues that have come up in Clearwater,” Chappie said.

When it opened in 1999, the Clearwater Beach roundabout originally included an elevated fountain that was later removed because it obstructed drivers’ vision and contributed to accidents. Over the years, that roundabout has been modified to improve traffic flow and enhance pedestrian safety.

Current realities

Chappie acknowledged the realities of living on a popular barrier island.

“No matter what you design and put in there, there’s going to be times – mostly during season or holidays – when it’s not going to be able to handle the capacity. So, there’s always going to be backup. With their PDE, they’ll be able to determine through their data what design has less backup during the high peak times,” Chappie said.

CRA chair Ralph Cole shared similar sentiments.

“Everybody wants to fix a traffic problem – make it wider, make it bigger. We’ve only got a five-pound sack here, so we can only stick so many potatoes in it. Drive out to Lakewood Ranch at rush hour and you’re in six lanes of traffic sitting there at a five-minute stoplight. The more accessible you make it, the more people are going to come,” Cole said.

“You almost have to accept the fact that you live on a barrier island. Everybody wants to come to it. Get used to it. Plan your time of attack when you go into town. That’s just the way it is,” Cole said.

Burnett said those who participated in the recent FDOT discussion agreed that traffic congestion cannot be eliminated 100% of the time at that intersection.

“There will be those 20,000 people on this Island all trying to get off at the same time and you just have to be patient. However, if 80% of the time you can reduce the delays and the length of time it takes, you’re increasing everyone’s quality of life,” Burnett said.

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