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FDOT brings good tidings for local roads

MANATEE — They didn’t wear Santa hats, but state transportation officials gave a local transportation board an early Christmas gift Monday.

The Florida Department of Transportation has no plans to cut or delay any upcoming local road projects — and actually has added some new ones — despite plummeting state revenue projections, agency officials told the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The reason: While state revenues are falling, bids are dropping by even more, said Stan Cann, secretary of the FDOT district that includes both counties.

“That’s been our saving grace,” Cann said after he and another FDOT official submitted the agency’s proposed five-year work program to the MPO.

MPO members quickly and unanimously endorsed the plan, relieved that FDOT doesn’t foresee the state’s mounting financial woes causing any more delays.

“This is certainly good and welcome news,” said Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes, the MPO’s chair.

It comes despite the recession slicing $7.2 billion in state transportation funding in the last two years, said Ben Walker of FDOT. That includes a $3.5 billion hit just since August, he said.

That corresponds to about a 10-percent cut statewide, but local bids have been coming in by an average of 40 percent lower than expected, Cann said. That’s likely because contractors are hungrier for work and those projects’ anticipated price tags were inflated because their cost estimates were made when prices were skyrocketing, he said.

FDOT uses prior bids on similar projects to estimate the costs of future projects. Thus, falling bids are allowing FDOT to plan on doing more work in the next five fiscal years despite having less money.

Among projects FDOT plans to do in Manatee between the 2009/10 and 2013/14 fiscal years:

n Resurfacing sections of U.S. 41 and State Roads 64 and 70.

n Rehabilitating the Longboat Pass and Cortez drawbridges.

n Buying right of way to widen S.R. 64 to six lanes between Carlton Arms Boulevard and Interstate 75.

n Installing a system of closed-circuit cameras, electronic message signs and sensors along I-75 and I-275.

In all, FDOT plans to spend nearly $194.1 million in Manatee through fiscal 2013/14. Besides roads, that includes money for mass transit operations, constructing sidewalks and improving airport and port facilities.

The work program won’t be final until after the Florida Legislature sets next year’s budget.

Also Monday, the MPO elected Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson as its 2009 chair and Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey as its vice-chair.

They will take their new positions in January.