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Tara bridge out of MPO’s plans

MANATEE/SARASOTA -- The two-county region’s new long-range transportation plan includes a possible fourth Manatee River bridge but not another one over the Braden River.

The Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday adopted Mobility 2035, a 25-year plan that outlines nearly $3.27 billion in transportation-related projects in the two counties.

Among the projects: widening parts of U.S. 301, State Road 64 and Ellenton-Gillette Road; building portions of the 44th Avenue East connector; and studying the feasibility of another Manatee River bridge between Bradenton and Palmetto or possibly Ellenton.

But it won’t include a proposed $52 million bridge linking Tara Boulevard and Honore Avenue, an unfunded project that MPO members pulled from the plan. By doing so, the project will not be eligible for state or federal funding -- which officials said was unlikely to begin with.

“Really, at the end of the day, it’s a county project,” said MPO member and Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, who proposed its removal from the plan. “It doesn’t make sense to have it on the list for federal dollars.”

Manatee has spent more than $1.8 million designing and buying right of way for the bridge, but doesn’t plan to spend any more money for at least five years.

The project has been controversial, with residents on both sides of Braden River mounting organized opposition to it. Tara homeowner Cathy Woolley added her voice Monday, urging the MPO to drop the bridge from long-range plans.

“Moving traffic through a long residential area ... creates a problem,” she said. “This bridge does not solve any problems and should not be a high priority.”

But the move wasn’t supported by all MPO members: Four voted against taking the bridge out of the plan.

“It’s so important,” said one of them, Manatee County Commissioner Donna Hayes. “It was the first issue I addressed when I was elected. We’ve got to get traffic off State Road 70.”

She also cited the issue in opposing the overall plan’s adoption. Hers was the only dissent.

The plan will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for its review and approval.

Also Monday, the MPO:

n Elected North Port Commissioner David Garofalo as its chairman and Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant as vice chairman for 2011.

n Reviewed the Florida Department of Transportation’s draft tentative five-year work program, which outlines projects the agency plans to do in the 2011-16 fiscal years. The final plan will be adopted in July.

Duane Marsteller, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.