VENICE — A local transportation board was open to a major shift in the way it chooses and funds projects Monday, yet all but closed the door on a major revenue stream proposed to support the change.
The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization board heard an Orlando planner’s draft of Mobility 2035, a 25-year plan that sets priorities for about $2 billion in anticipated state, federal and local funding for transportation improvement projects in the two counties.
One of two options Renaissance Planning Group presented would shift priorities from traditional road-building and widening projects to an emphasis on expanded mass transit and the enhancement of walking, biking and transit opportunities on the U.S. 41 corridor.
That option intrigued several board members, including Chairwoman Marianne Barnebey, a Bradenton city councilwoman.
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“Is it the right thing to do,” Barnebey asked, “to just keep putting asphalt down on the state of Florida? ... It’s not easy to do, to envision something 25 years out. However, if we all come together and work on it, we might come up with a good solution.”
But that option also featured a half-cent sales tax, to be enacted in 2025 to help pay for a bus rapid-transit system, a high-frequency, limited-stop bus service between Bradenton and Sarasota.
Board members questioned the viability of the surtax. It would replace an existing infrastructure surtax in Sarasota County that expires in 2024 but would be new to Manatee County residents.
Several board members said they don’t want to burden future elected officials with a tax the public might not support.
“This is a real iffy situation,” said board member Donna Hayes, also a Manatee commissioner. “I do not feel comfortable making a decision like that.”
“I don’t think anyone up here is going to be voting in 2024,” said MPO board member David Garafalo, a commissioner in North Port.
The MPO board is scheduled to vote on the two options — the other option is to continue with already designated project priorities — on Dec. 13, although board members expressed dismay about the deadline. The MPO is required to update its long-range plan every five years, and the next update is due by the end of the year.
“We’ve got a month to make a major decision. ... Is there any way we could have more time?” Hayes asked.
MPO Executive Director Michael Howe told the board he would seek an extension from the Federal Highway Administration to allow the board to approve the new five-year plan after the first of the year. If there is no extension, the board plans to hold a meeting Nov. 22 to get a better handle on the options before the vote.
Whit Blanton, a vice president at Renaissance Planning, will visit the elected board of each county and municipality to share the two options before the vote.
Among the Manatee County projects in what Blanton called the “business-as-usual approach” are the four-laning of U.S. 301, 44th Avenue East and 27th Street East along with a feasibility study for a new bridge over the Manatee River.
Board member Joe McClash, a Manatee County commissioner, said the $18.3 million budgeted for the bridge feasibility study would be a waste of money because the same study was completed in 1995.
At the time, the Bradenton City Council opposed the bridge as did a vocal chorus of residents in Bradenton, Ellenton and Palmetto. MPO later pulled the bridge proposal off the table.
“You’re doing the same thing we did before to get to the same conclusion,” McClash said.
Two Manatee road projects in the initial option — four-laning 69th Street East between Erie Road and U.S. 41, and four-laning Honore Avenue from Conestoga Place to Sandstone Avenue — would be dropped in the option that emphasizes transit and the U.S. 41 corridor.