MANATEE -- Sarasota community leaders were successful Monday in adding North Tamiami Trail improvements to the funding priority list of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The newest project runs from 14th Street in Sarasota north to University Parkway. The 2.5-mile project along U.S. 41 will include bike trails, pedestrian walkways, landscaping and traffic roundabouts at Martin Luther King Way, Myrtle Avenue, 47th Street and University Parkway
The MPO board, consisting of elected officials of the two counties, unanimously approved making the project No. 28 on the major improvement priority list for 2013-2014.
As the last item on the list, funding for the estimated $52 million project will not be available until after 2030 unless the board reshuffles
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the priority list in the spring when the new five-year plan is written.
"The U.S. 41 corridor has two options for transportation funding that could impact University Parkway at U.S. 41," said Michael Howe, MPO executive director. "First would be to add it to the priority list, which was done today."
MPO projects are paid for with federal and state funds. Howe said Multi-Modal Emphasis Corridor funds, which Manatee and Sarasota counties have established for improvements along U.S. 41, could also be used.
Larry Bustle, MPO vice chairman and Manatee County Commission chairman, said it was too early to establish project funding. He said it may be broken into smaller projects.
"Adding it to the priority list is more of a place holder," Bustle said. "We have time to decide where the money will come from later."
Bustle said a roundabout at University Parkway and U.S. 41 could be a possible intersection improvement.
Improvement plans for the stretch of U.S. 41 in Manatee County north of University Parkway are not as developed as the Sarasota section, Bustle said.
"We'll be studying and deciding what to do in the future," he said.
A portion of the roadway passes through County Commissioner Robin DiSabitino's district. She said the section north of the University Parkway intersection has been identified as an important area for the county to develop.
"It's a gateway and we want to put our best foot forward," DiSabitino said. "Also, we want to make that stretch of highway safer."
Spokesman Charlie Terenzio of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee said the university believes traffic safety should be improved along U.S. 41.
"The dangerous traffic situation in front of the USF campus has been a very important topic for our entire university community," he said in an e-mail. "We are always working to improve the safety of our students, faculty and staff, so we are open to any initiatives that may help us move in that direction. Traveling in and out of campus is a high-risk problem that we have researched and that we will continue to assess on a regular basis."
The New College of Florida, whose campus straddles U.S. 41 at University Parkway, also supports the North Tamiami Trail improvement project.
"It would be a definite improvement over what is there now," said John Martin, vice president of finance and administration at New College. "A roundabout would improve safety and at the same time improve the flow of the traffic."
Over the past several years, there has been talk of creating an educational corridor from Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota north to the USF campus.
"There are four colleges along that stretch," Martin said, "and it would be a successful improvement for the business and colleges."
Developing the corridor with coffee shops, restaurants, retail stores and residences, as well as improved public transportation would benefit the community, according to USF officials.
"We are in constant communication with our colleagues at New College, State College of Florida and Ringling College of Art and Design regarding new shared initiatives and ways we can collaborate to showcase what a spectacular area this is for higher education," Terenzio said.