MANATEE -- The area's transportation needs were front and center Friday as U.S. House Transportation Committee Chair Bill Shuster toured Manatee County to see the situation first-hand.
Shuster, R-Pa., whose committee sets national policy and funding for highways, airports, transit, rail and water resources, was welcomed by local officials and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.
They visited Port Manatee, toured parts of Anna Maria Island and Cortez, lunched in Lakewood Ranch, and hosted a town hall meeting at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
"If you're talking about jobs, economic development or trade, the fourth thing that should roll off your tongue is transportation because to create jobs, to see economic development, to see trade occur in the world, we've got to have an efficient
transportation system," Shuster told a group of about 40.
An efficient and safe system is extremely important, he added.
"I believe that the country's at a tipping point when it comes to transportation," he said. "You know, our bridges and our roads are deteriorating, our airports, our 20 largest airports will face significant congestion, our inland waterways ... are 60 years old on average."
The U.S. has to make sure it's prepared to move people and goods in the most efficient way, he said.
He pledged to try to reduce the time it takes to accomplish major highway projects, as quicker action would save money.
However, he emphasized, "It's not all about money -- it's about doing things more efficiently."
Transportation, he said, "touches all of us."
Buchanan and a group of local officials, including Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, made sure that Shuster visited beach communities, which rely on sand renourishment to protect roads and other types of transportation infrastructure.
In the audience was Andrew Gould, 28, student body president at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, and Stephanie Hames, 24, a USF student.
They wanted to know whether Shuster could do anything about the high number of accidents and pedestrian fatalities that are a regular occurrence along U.S. 41 bordering their campus.
Buchanan invited them to visit his office to see if, at the federal level, he could find a way to help them.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.