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County buys land for park-and-ride lot

BRADENTON — The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday approved the purchase of about three-fourths of an acre for a park-and-ride lot just north of Palmetto.

The county will use $408,000 in federal stimulus funds to pay for the property adjacent to the Manatee County Area Transit transfer station on Eighth Avenue West and 19th Street West scheduled to open later this month.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said the lot will benefit people who ride MCAT’s Route 99, which travels south through downtown Bradenton and down U.S. 41 to downtown Sarasota.

“Route 99 is the most heavily used in the MCAT system,” Hunzeker said. “Also, in the future it will be a key spot for any transit system heading north to Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.”

The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority has plans for a mass transit system connecting Manatee and Sarasota counties to counties to the north.

Ralf Heseler, manager of MCAT, said after the meeting the park-and-ride lot will be a big benefit for commuters.

“For years we’ve been trying to get people out of their automobiles and onto the transit system,” Heseler said.

Being able to park next to the bus station and go as far as Sarasota will now provide an incentive for people to use the bus, he said.

“Also, as we improve and expand the express bus routes, both to the south and to the north,” Heseler said, “other park-and-ride lots are planned.”

The property, on the corner of Seventh Avenue West and 19th Street West, is owned by Jack and Hazel Ford and contains two duplexes and two single-family homes that will need to be demolished to make room for the 55 parking spaces.

The county staff looked at another parcel of about one acre on Eighth Avenue West, just south of the bus station, owned by Varnadore Properties LLC, appraised at $800,000.

Commissioner Joe McClash suggested the county buy both properties for future expansion, but other commissioners asked Hunzeker to provide them with a report on how to fund such a purchase.

The county administrator said he will have that information available at a commission workshop.

In other business Tuesday, the county commission:

n Voted to donate a surplus 9-1-1 switch to the Washington Parish Communications District in Louisiana.

The switch was deemed surplus when the county installed the mobile 9-1-1 Backup Center, according to Bill Hutchison, director of the county pubic safety department.

James Coleman, chairman of the 9-1-1 district in Washington Parish, made the trip to Manatee County to personally thank the commission and to express how important the switch was to their residents’ safety.

Coleman said during Hurricane Katrina they did not have a backup, a problem the donated switch will rectify.

n Approved an agreement to send $4 million to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, which in turn distributes the funds to Manatee Memorial Hospital for health care services it provides Medicaid, uninsured and underinsured patients as part of the county’s indigent care program.

McClash asked the county administrator to provide the commission with a report on the benefits of having the state administer the $4 million fund.