Corridor revitalization takes visionary leadership and many partners. The story of the Tamiami Trail corridor in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, Florida, is one of inspired leadership at the regional level by the Metropolitan Planning Organization as the convener of public, private and non-profit partners with a stake in the corridor's fortunes. Transportation is the unifying element, but it must be paired with local innovations to support connecting people, places and opportunity. As revitalization of the Tamiami Trail comes more clearly into focus, it's important to look back on the plans and events that served as catalysts for this transformation. Sarasota/Manatee (FL) MPO Public Transportation System Analysis
My first opportunity to work in the region, undertaken by the Sarasota/Manatee MPO in late 2000. The PTSA ("pizza study") envisioned a new regional transit network designed to meet the changing needs of the rapidly growing two-county urbanized area of 500,000 residents, which is projected to grow to more than 1 million. Until this study, transit had not been examined at the regional level or with much long-term perspective. With two separate county-run transit systems having starkly different missions, operations, capacity for growth and funding levels, there was a near total disconnect between routes and transfer points despite heavy inter-county commuting patterns.
Outcome: While the plan was regional in scope, it focused on the US 41/Tamiami Trail corridor for improved service and connectivity. With four elected officials serving on a steering committee under the sage leadership of local transit elder statesman Ernie Gerlach, the MPO and both counties bought in to the PTSA's recommendations. Within two years of the plan's adoption and monthly attention from a newly created Public Transportation Task Force comprised of elected officials from both counties, Manatee and Sarasota County began jointly operating a new interlined Route 99 in 2004, linking Palmetto, Bradenton and Sarasota across the county line. The route was an instant success as the most productive in both systems, and set the stage for continued inter-county transit service improvements on the islands and east of I-75, renewed focus on redevelopment along the Trail, and better pedestrian accommodations for safety. The Public Transportation Task Force continues to foster a more focused dialogue about transit in the region, with one of the PTSA's stalled recommendations to merge the two systems receiving renewed attention through joint county meetings.
Manatee County Carrying Capacity Study/Thoroughfare Plan
Rapid suburban growth and development pressure on rural lands in the early 2000s forced Manatee County to examine its long term roadway plan for right-of-way needs. The County hired Renaissance to conduct a build-out study based on approved and allowable development as a basis for updating its Thoroughfare Plan. The Carrying Capacity Study demonstrated the dramatic extent of road-building and widening Manatee County would need to undertake to accommodate projected growth.
Outcome: The study showed the one area in Manatee County that could accommodate a large amount of future growth without widening or building a lot of roads was along the US 41 corridor between Bradenton and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport because of South Central Manatee County's well-connected road network and its proximity to employment, services and retail. The study became something of a referendum on the County's adopted growth management plan, with Commissioners and citizens alike calling for more compact, mixed use and inter-connected development instead of the status quo. Now in post-recession recovery, Manatee County is working on changing its growth plans through its "How Will We Grow" initiative, with the South County Community Redevelopment Area along the Tamiami Trail corridor a critical target area for redevelopment and revitalization.
US 41 Corridor Group (FL) Innovation 41 - Transforming Path into Place
A cross-jurisdictional partnership of government, airport, education and cultural institutions combined efforts in 2005-06 to develop the US 41 Education and Cultural Corridor Master Plan. The plan's mission was to create a public process and conceptual plan via an open community discussion on the branding, shape, form and substance of a designated area of higher education, history and culture along the North Trail on US 41 between Bowlees Creek in southern Manatee County to just north of downtown Sarasota. Jointly funded by Manatee County, Sarasota County, the City of Sarasota, Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, Ringling School of Art and Design, University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida and the Florida State University Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts, the Innovation 41 Master Plan created a vision for improved access, a greater user experience for cultural tourism and higher education, market-based redevelopment strategies to support the needs of residents, students, visitors and employees in the corridor.
Outcome: The Great Recession did the corridor and implementation of this plan no favors, but the Innovation 41 master plan reinforced the Tamiami Trail as the primary gateway to region's cultural and educational treasures, downtown Sarasota and the beaches. The plan identified nodes and key access points for focused redevelopment that respects the culture and character of the area, its adjacent neighborhoods and destinations. It has also served as a rallying point for the higher educational institutions, businesses, cultural destinations, the airport authority, neighborhoods, advocacy groups and local governments for appropriate redevelopment and transportation modifications on the corridor. The plan identified nodes and key access points for focused redevelopment that respects the culture and character of the area, its adjacent neighborhoods and destinations. Importantly, it's also served as a rallying point for the higher educational institutions, businesses, cultural destinations, the airport authority, neighborhoods, advocacy groups and local governments to advance appropriate redevelopment and transportation modifications.
Bradenton/Palmetto (FL) Downtown Mobility Study
The cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, located across from each other on the shores of the Manatee River along the Tamiami Trail corridor, petitioned the Sarasota/Manatee MPO for funding of a study through the MPO's Congestion Management Process in 2008 to address downtown mobility issues. The MPO granted $300,000 for a study to address strategic, near term remedies to transportation challenges that threatened to undermine the cities' redevelopment efforts to draw more housing, employment and visitors to their downtowns. The two bridges crossing the Manatee River - US 41 (DeSoto Bridge) and US 41 Business (Green Bridge) between the cities experience severe congestion in peak hours, and SR 64 - a one-way pair of three lanes in each direction that splits downtown Bradenton, are among the challenging transportation issues hampering downtown redevelopment, access and livability envisioned by Bradenton's Downtown by Design plan. Renaissance prepared a multimodal plan designed to support the cities' redevelopment objectives while maintaining and enhancing regional mobility.
Outcome: After years of delay over issues related to site acquisition, the plan sited Manatee County Area Transit's new downtown Bradenton transit facility on West 13th Street that opened in 2012 consistent with conceptual design depicted in the plan that enhances pedestrian access from the Village of the Arts to historic Main Street. The FDOT approved a lane reduction strategy on SR 64 through downtown Bradenton, enabling wider sidewalks on on-street parking. The MPO and FDOT have advanced funding for a conversion of the Green Bridge (Business 41) to turn a 4' sidewalk and break down lane into a separated 10' shared use path linking the two cities' Riverwalk projects. Finally, FDOT District 1 has initiated the Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis to resolve long-term issues related to the two bridges, including whether to build a new bridge, and enhancing mobility and access for all users along the Trail.
Sarasota (FL) Connecting Downtown Sarasota to the Bayfront
In 1960, the state realigned and widened US 41 to skirt around downtown Sarasota, effectively cutting it off from the bayfront and its array of civic and cultural destinations, residences, hotels, marinas, parks overlooking the natural beauty of Sarasota Bay, and the internationally renowned destinations along the corridor and on Lido Key and Longboat Key. The result created a high-speed regional roadway barrier that hinders pedestrian access, lacks safe operating conditions for bicyclists, marginalizes transit, and undermines the economic value of a highly accessible and vibrant downtown going through extensive redevelopment stemming from the City of Sarasota's Downtown Master Plan. Through an intensive week-long charrette involving hundreds of participants and in-depth analysis, the 2010 study developed an extensive array of recommendations to balance mobility and access along the Tamiami Trail corridor, creating new design concepts to slow down traffic and enable safe non-motorized accommodations.
Outcome: The MPO and FDOT have programmed funds for the design and construction of two roundabouts on US 41 and the intersections of 14th Street and 10th Street just north of downtown Sarasota. The horizontal deflection will slow down traffic and enhance access for all users to destinations on both sides of the roadway. A subsequent Citywide Mobility Plan has further codified and advanced transportation projects and policies to create a multimodal, safe and accessible downtown.
Sarasota/Manatee (FL) MPO 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan
Federal law requires an MPO to adopt a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that provides a financially feasible strategy for meeting the urbanized area's transportation needs over the next 20-25 years. To advance with state or federal funding, projects must be identified in the LRTP. Adopted in 2010, the MPO's 2035 LRTP focused on breaking the log-jam of big ticket roadway capacity projects at the top of the cost feasible priority list, committing the majority of funds to a few projects that will take many years to fully fund and complete. Regional in scope, the 2035 LRTP generally targeted smaller multimodal transportation projects designed to support economic vitality and redevelopment, reflecting numerous local and regional initiatives, particularly those in the US 41/Tamiami Trail corridor.
Outcome: The 2035 Plan formally designated the US 41 Multimodal Emphasis Corridor, creating a policy and funding program to raise the visibility and importance of the Tamiami Trail revitalization activities. The plan divided the nearly 60-mile corridor into distinct segments and created a boxed funding allocation of some $200 million over 25 years as a competitive grant program for multimodal access and mobility projects defined by local governments to support redevelopment of the Tamiami Trail corridor. The subsequent funding program approved in 2012 established criteria and reporting requirements. This elevation of the Trail projects from piecemeal local government strategies into a regionally significant strategy is helping to leverage partnerships that will spur continued public and private sector investments in this vital corridor to enhance the well-being and quality of life for the region and its local governments, institutions and neighborhoods.
Charlotte County and the cities of Venice and North Port in southern Sarasota County are undertaking similar initiatives for the Tamiami Trail as those described above. The MPO is also leading efforts on brownfields clean-up in the corridor from leaking underground storage tanks, a major impediment to redevelopment. Though not an exhaustive summary of all the local government endeavors, this recounting highlights the need to undertake corridor revitalization efforts on multiple fronts, including both regional and smaller scale initiatives designed to reinforce integrated land use and transportation strategies to connect people, places and opportunities. Renaissance has enjoyed a nearly 14 year period of working with the MPO and its partners to improve how transportation supports livable communities with economic opportunity for all. While much work remains to be accomplished, this type of sustained focus on building consensus and fostering collaborative partnerships to bring vision and plans to reality is the essence of why do what we do.
–Whit Blanton, FAICP, Cities That Work Blog