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News Section: Local Government

Venice By-Pass Keeps Pedal to the Metal

Published Tuesday, July 24, 2012 12:08 am

BRADENTON --  The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization Venice By-Pass project has not been without controversy or change of plans, but it keeps going forward, adapting to budgets and popular votes. At Monday's meeting a few tweaks were in store, as the first phase of start up nears. Many times over the years, residents from North Port to Sarasota have had their say on how U.S. 41 congestion could be reduced, but finally, the way forward seems to be in high gear.


The Venice By-Pass is a multimodal project, contrived to offer remedy for what wasn't working. It has had difficulties finding its priorities in the many phases of its design. There are different blocks of funds, tied to different segments, that all have to fit into a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). 


Monday's meeting alterations had a little bit of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, so some competing interests were at play. Fears of what might get pushed back to the time where funds could run out was of some concern, but moreover was the possibility that what made the project multimodal (sidewalks, bike paths, crossings and safe speed) would not make it to the final stage. 


The whole theory from the get-go seemed to be bigger is better, which transformed into six-lane highways and giant intersections. But the cost and practicality, not to mention the alternative modes of transport, which helped fund the project, wasn't fitting in. 


Trimming down the speed so that drivers weren't just put on a conveyor-belt through town; roundabouts so that T-Boning accidents weren't so common; and sidewalks, bike paths and enhancements grew more and more reasonable. The quality over quantity approach started to take hold.


Questions about what was driving the science behind bigger is better, the wisdom of pushing up the speed, and what was really safer for pedestrians and cyclists, were questions being asked by pedestrian advocates like Mike Lasche. He displayed the dangers in larger roads and faster speeds. Lasche used FDOT data to make arguments like, when a road expands from four to six lanes, pedestrian fatalities rise 158 percent, and bicycle fatalities rise 249 percent. 


Groups like Sierra Club sent letters that challenged the sincerity of the MPO's and FDOT's commitment to supply sufficient crosswalks and designated turn lanes that also cut down on fatalities.


At Monday's meeting, you could hear the doubt in the voices of the Venice officials as they grouped to remind the MPO members how safety was a real issue, not one to be bargained away for expedience.  


As the surveyors pull out their plum blobs, and the engineers start pushing out the blueprints, it seems there is still an air of doubt as to whether this is a $41 million fix, or just more problems ahead. Time will tell.    

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