Area might see less stimulus money than previously expected

SARASOTA — Manatee and Sarasota counties could get less federal economic-stimulus money for local transportation projects than previously thought, prompting officials to again shuffle what they hope to spend the money on.

Each county now can expect to get about $7.5 million from the stimulus package, Florida Department of Transportation officials told the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday. That’s down from previous estimates of $10 million per county for strictly local projects.

However, officials said it’s still possible the area will see FDOT spending stimulus money set aside for state and federal roads. Just how much, and where it would go, hasn’t been determined yet.

The $5 million reduction in the local estimate forced the MPO to play another round of musical projects, with some being taken out and others being added to a revised priority list that was approved.

Manatee’s five cities dominate the county’s revised list of 15 projects, accounting for the top 13 spots. Improving Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach was the top priority, followed by building a roundabout on Haben Boulevard in Palmetto and resurfacing streets throughout Palmetto.

That was by design, Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash said.

“We agreed that Manatee County would take it on the chin” in favor of the cities, he said.

The county dropped its $5.4 million request for widening U.S. 301 between Erie/Old Tampa roads and County Road 675 because it likely would be funded by the state. In its place, county officials added resurfacing projects for University Parkway and other “major roads countywide.”

But at the 14th and 15th spots, it’s doubtful either will get any stimulus money.

Sarasota County’s priority list also was shuffled, with the top project changed from resurfacing North Port roads to improving an intersection by its city hall.

The priority lists and stimulus windfall estimates haven’t been the only things in a constant state of flux: So have the eligibility criteria for projects.

“The list keeps getting shifted around because there were all kinds of guidelines we hadn’t anticipated,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, the MPO’s chair.

For instance, Bradenton officials initially proposed resurfacing numerous streets citywide only to learn those streets didn’t qualify for federal money. That prompted city officials to submit three substitutes — adding sidewalks on 26th Street West, resurfacing Southern Parkway and replacing the Ninth Avenue West bridge over Wares Creek — in hopes that at least one of them qualifies.

A frustrated Bradenton Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, the city’s MPO representative, likened it to not only changing the rules during a game but the game itself.

“I came prepared to play baseball, and I come to find out it’s football,” Barnebey said after the meeting. “I’m just hoping we’re not going to be playing cricket anytime soon.”

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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