State budget ax falls on port, airport

MANATEE — Port Manatee and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport have become the latest casualties of state transportation budget cuts.

The Florida Department of Transportation plans to cut $7.9 million budgeted through 2014 for proposed improvements at both facilities, it told local elected officials Monday.

The brunt of the cuts fell on the seaport: It will lose $6.9 million for building a refrigerated warehouse, widening an internal road and dredging a longer, deeper channel next to an existing berth. The airport will get $1 million less for a proposed new air-traffic control tower, said Stan Cann, secretary of the FDOT district that includes Manatee County.

Those cuts are the latest resulting from falling state revenues, he told the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO is a board of local elected officials that prioritizes transportation projects in the two-county region.

And Cann warned that more cuts are likely after June, when state economists will release a revised revenue estimate.

“There’ll be more coming. I’ll get my share,” he said in a follow-up interview, referring to his 12-county district.

Airport and seaport officials lamented the loss in state funding, but said the effects will be minimal.

Port Manatee still plans to seek bids to dredge a ship channel next to Berth 12, despite FDOT axing a $4 million grant, said Steve Tyndal, the port’s senior director of trade development and special projects. The grant was only recently earmarked for the project, and was on top of what already had been budgeted, he said.

“It’s a disappointment that we didn’t get it, but we didn’t really have it in the first place,” Tyndal said.

FDOT also reduced funding — from $3.5 million to $1.6 million — for building another refrigerated warehouse in fiscal 2013 and cut $1 million toward four-laning South Dock Street this year. Tyndal said FDOT and port officials are working to secure funding from other potential sources.

FDOT also plans to reduce funding for SRQ’s new air-traffic control tower from $4 million to $3 million.

But the reduction “is not a devastating blow,” said Rick Piccolo, the airport’s president and chief executive.

“It’s not the whole project and we’ll look in the future to make it up,” he said.

“I think we’ll adjust without a lot of problems.”

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