Despite being a top priority for the region, no funding is earmarked for the replacement of the DeSoto Bridge.
“We have the DeSoto Bridge that we made a priority, but there is no funding,” Commissioner Betsy Benac said. “It is a priority and we need to see it done.”
The replacement of the bridge, which is at the end of its service life, became a topic of conversation Monday as the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization heard Florida Department of Transportation’s tentative five-year work program for 2018-2022. FDOT is investing $462 million in new and existing projects in Manatee and Sarasota counties during this period.
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“I know we have to go through these stages,” Benac said, noting project development, environment study and right of way acquisition. “I think it might get frustrating to people to see all those phases programmed but never get to the finish line where we actually get construction.”
The DeSoto Bridge replacement was made a regional project priority at the June MPO meeting, and the project is expected to be included as a top priority for the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority.
A Central Manatee Network Alternatives Analysis, which FDOT is conducting, has also identified the need for the bridge to be replaced, MPO’s executive director Dave Hutchinson has said.
With the bridges to Anna Maria Island, as well as those between Bradenton and Palmetto, in need of work, Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh said they really have an issue in Manatee County.
“We are sitting in Manatee County with a bridge that is truly just a necessity,” she said of the DeSoto Bridge. “The lifespan on the bridge is gone. We’ve got the will. We’ve just got to find the way. We’ve got to get to work on some of the bridges in Manatee County.”
Baugh said they should work with FDOT as well as legislators to try to expedite the DeSoto Bridge project.
“I am concerned about time of evacuation if need be, what we need to do to make sure our citizens are safe,” she said.
Bradenton City Councilman Patrick Roff, who is also MPO chairman, said he’s been told it takes 20 years to build a bridge.
“I like to get the project started,” he said. “You’ve got to start somewhere. I think we are headed down the right road. We need to deal with immediate problems and we have to deal with long term problems.”
Also on Monday, the MPO approved amendments to the Transportation Improvement Program for fiscal years 2016-17 through 2020-21 which included funding for the Sarasota/Manatee barrier island study as well as right-of-way funding for the Interstate 75 at U.S. 301 interchange.