Manatee County transit officials plan new route serving Lakewood Ranch Boulevard

MANATEE -- Manatee County transit officials Tuesday announced a plan to add a new north-south bus route serving Lakewood Ranch Boulevard along with more frequent service on an existing route over the next couple of years.

Plans call for buses traversing Manatee Avenue from the beaches to Interstate 75 to continue east to connect with Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, then turn south toward University Parkway, then to The Mall at University Town Center.

The new service would launch in 2017, according to William Steele, transit division manager for Manatee County Area Transit.

The new route would operate from 5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday at 60-minute intervals, he said.

Plans also call for more frequent bus service along the existing Manatee Avenue routes in 2016, he said.

On the route between I-75 and the beaches, service waits would drop from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, he said.

"We're proposing to double service frequency on Manatee Avenue," he said.

"I like it," said Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, whose district includes Lakewood Ranch.

The Manatee County Commission, however, still must approve the MCAT plans.

With grants available from the Florida Department of

Transportation and a match from the county, more frequent service and the new Lakewood Ranch route would cost about $1.2 million, according to county documents.

Restaurateur Tommy Klauber, owner of Polo Grill and Bar, said the biggest challenges he hears from staff members is their car has broken down and they have no way to get to work.

"To have access to public transportation is a very good thing for our business," Klauber said. "We would be very, very excited to see a Manatee County bus route."

Klauber said an added route past Lakewood Ranch Main Street would also bring additional business from surrounding areas.

"I would think that this would be a great addition to the route and it would get a lot of traffic on that bus," he said.

The route would end along University Parkway near The Mall at University Town Center and other Benderson Development properties. Todd Mathes, director of development at Benderson Development, said it is "always a positive thing to have bus service."

"We think added bus service to this area is a really positive thing both from consumer, tenant and retail standpoint but it brings great options and an alternative for people," Mathes said. "We are totally supportive and it is a great move."

Mathes said the bus route could be helpful in attracting businesses to the area.

"It is definitely an amenity that is added," he said.

College officials also favor the added route to Lakewood Ranch from Bradenton.

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota spokeswoman Debra Gingerich said the college looks forward to welcoming new students to its Lakewood Ranch campus with the bus route.

"This bus route is an exciting new opportunity for students who otherwise would not have transportation to SCF Lakewood Ranch," she said.

Manatee Technical College supports the proposed extension into Lakewood Ranch, said Maura Howl, MTC spokeswoman.

"It would provide both south county and north Bradenton residents direct access to our East Campus and east connection to our Main Campus," she said.

Most Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, School of Pharmacy and School of Dental Medicine students own their own transportation, according to LECOM spokesman Michael Polin.

"Bus service off of State Road 64 would certainly help those who need transportation to the LECOM School of Dental Medicine Clinic on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard," Polin said.

"MCAT already makes a stop at the clinic off State Road 70."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.