SARASOTA -- A regional transportation board took the first step Monday toward launching a $210 million effort to improve the U.S. 41 corridor in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization tasked its technical advisory committee with developing the program, which aims to gradually make the congested corridor safer and more accessible in the next 25 years.
“It’s going to be an interesting program,” said Michael Howe, the MPO’s executive director. “I’m excited about the concept. This is a very strong commitment the board has made to our urban core.”
The MPO, a board of local elected officials that sets transportation priorities for the two-county area, adopted the U.S. 41 emphasis last year as part of an updated long-range plan. The plan also earmarked $210 million -- $70 million in Manatee, $140 million in Sarasota -- for unspecified future projects along the key north-south route.
It was a fundamental shift for the board, which previously focused on building new roads or widening existing ones in new-growth areas. But with the Great Recession stifling population growth and gas-tax revenue, officials now say it makes more sense to make existing travel corridors better -- not only for cars but also for mass transit, pedestrians and bicycle riders.
Mapping how to accomplish that now is up to the advisory committee, made of planners, engineers and other employees of MPO member governments. It has a December deadline to submit for MPO approval the program’s goals and objectives, criteria for evaluating and ranking proposed projects, and year-by-year funding levels.
From there, the MPO will solicit proposed projects from its member governments, then evaluate, prioritize, schedule and budget them. However, the program’s first cent likely won’t be spent until 2016 at the earliest.
Potential projects include roundabouts, better signage, new sidewalks, enhanced bus service and median/lane modifications, many already proposed and researched by local governments, Howe said.
“There are a lot of studies on the shelf just waiting for funding,” he said.
Also Monday, the MPO:
n Added two projects on U.S. 41 in Manatee County to its five-year transportation improvement program. One project would upgrade the traffic signal at Bayshore Gardens Parkway, while the other would install street lights between 53rd and 63rd avenues. Both projects are scheduled for construction in 2015.
n Agreed to hire a consultant to conduct a “peer review” of Florida Department of Transportation plans for a proposed U.S. 41 bypass in Venice.
The MPO’s concerns center on whether FDOT adequately considered roundabouts instead of wider intersections and a proposed four-lane section within the six-lane road.
Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.