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Florida Transportation Leaders Look Ahead to Future Needs

From land use to autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies, leaders in the state gathered to try to get a grasp on what transportation needs might look like in 2045 as part of a Long Range Transportation Plan.

(TNS) — As the population of the Sarasota-Manatee region continues to expand, planning for adequate roads, bridges, transit and other modes of transportation is expected to come with increasing challenges.

On Monday, about 150 elected officials, government employees and interested residents attended "Transform Tomorrow," a forum about forecasting transportation needs to 2045.

The Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which prioritizes federal and state transportation projects in the bi-county region, and Florida Department of Transportation hosted the program at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. The presentations served as an introduction to the MPO's next Long Range Transportation Plan, which is required for the area to qualify for federal funding for transportation projects.

"By this time next year, we'll have a rough first draft of what the LRTP will look like," MPO Executive Director David Hutchinson said.

The discussion outlined several topics to be addressed as the plan takes shape, including affordable housing, environmental protections and sea level rise.

Whatever priorities are included in the final document must be "financially feasible," Hutchinson said.

"We have to make choices," MPO planner Leigh Holt told the crowd. Funding will not be available for every project that local governments and the public would like to see accomplished.

FDOT District Secretary L. K. Nandam emphasized that future transportation decisions must be linked with future land-use decisions, such as where development is to be expected or discouraged.

MPO officials said priorities can be assigned to seven categories and, in coming months, opinions may differ as to which of those categories are more important.

Safety, security, preparedness

The FDOT and MPO want to address conditions at the "top 10" crash locations on U.S. 41. Those intersections include 57th Avenue West, Florida Boulevard, 49th Avenue Drive, Bayshore Gardens Parkway, 60th Avenue West and Orlando Avenue in Bradenton. In Sarasota County, those crossroads include Jacaranda Boulevard (Venice), River Road (North Port), Center Road (Venice) and Blackburn Point Road.

Acknowledging that the National Complete Streets Coalition recently ranked Sarasota-Manatee as the fourth most deadly metropolitan area for pedestrians, the MPO wants to set a goal that, by 2045, the region will have no traffic-related fatalities.

Longboat Key Town Manager Tom Harmer emphasized that the island municipality he serves relies on roads in other jurisdictions for evacuations and access to the mainland. He urged those communities to keep Longboat in mind as they consider any changes to those routes.

Bridges, infrastructure, resiliency

Replacing the aging DeSoto Bridge between Bradenton and Palmetto continues to be an MPO top priority. Whether capacity can be added to that replacement bridge or by building another crossing over the Manatee River remains an unsettled question.

Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, emphasized that future infrastructure plans must take into account storm surge and sea level rise.

Waterfront communities must start considering elevating roads, replacing seawalls with "living shorelines," enhancing drainage and other means of making their jurisdictions more resilient, Sullivan said.

Mobility, congestion, reliability

Improving mobility and reducing congestion requires providing the expanding population with options other than driving cars for short distances, planners said.

Throughout the region, the "complete streets" design is preferred for new and rebuilt roads.

Two-lane roads flanked by ditches need to be phased out and replaced with wider roads that include sidewalks and bicycle lanes, Clarke Davis, traffic management planner for Manatee County, said.

Lynn Burnett, city engineer for Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach, said capacity cannot be added to a two-lane thoroughfare such as Gulf Drive. She suggested island communities start planning ahead for water taxi service and reserving "good landing spots" close to preferred destinations.

Technology, autonomy

Planners said they must take into account the emergence of automated vehicles, which do not require drivers, and connected vehicles, which communicate traffic conditions with each other.

Advancing technology can also have a role in coordinating traffic signals, keeping buses on schedule and reducing congestion.

They noted that gas taxes are declining as a reliable revenue source as more vehicles become less reliant on traditional fuels.

Economy, tourism, freight

A vision of the transportation network of 2045 requires accommodating the workforce as well as visitors and the movement of freight.

Truck travel times to and from major employment and cargo centers, such as Port Manatee, must be an ongoing consideration.

The region's major freight routes include Interstate 75, U.S. 301, I-275, University Parkway and U.S. 41.

Tourism is considered the bi-county region's top "freight generator" because it brings in more than 5.9 million visitors and employs 51,300. Other "freight generators" are distribution services (5,000 employees), agriculture (55,700 acres of vegetables, 24,200 acres of citrus), manufacturing (16,245 workers), health care and social assistance (41,798 employees) and government and military (18,500 employees, 57 percent of whom work for the school districts).

Those generators either export products or require materials to be brought to their workplaces.

Equity, livability

Several county and municipal officials emphasized the need not only for more workforce housing but the location of that housing near employment centers.

That infill development should provide opportunities for residents to walk, ride bicycles or take a bus to "essential services" so they do not have to rely on cars, Jennifer Musselman of the transportation consulting firm Kittelson & Associates said.

Environment, conservation

Environmental protection and land conservation often seem to conflict with transportation needs.

This element in the next long-range plan could call for somehow achieving a balance. Goals could include improving air quality, promoting energy conservation, preserving historic and archaeological resources, and protecting habitats, wetlands and endangered species.

Planners, elected officials and the public will have to weigh such goals against such objectives as expanding traffic capacity.

©2019 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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