MCAT getting $4.6M in stimulus money

MANATEE — Manatee County Area Transit finally is getting $4.61 million in federal stimulus money it had been promised, and the agency doesn’t plan to waste time spending it.

MCAT officials hope to ask county commissioners within weeks to begin spending it for a park-and-ride lot, new buses, security enhancements and other improvements, transit Director Ralf Heseler said.

“We’re not going to be sitting on it long,” he said Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation earmarked the money for MCAT more than two months ago, but didn’t release it until Thursday.

With it, MCAT hopes to buy land near the new Palmetto transit center where commuters can park their cars and ride buses or carpool to their jobs. Construction of the transit center is complete at Eighth Avenue West and 19th Street West.

Heseler said the county is negotiating with the owners of two potential sites, but he declined to identify them. Commissioners could be asked within a month to approve purchasing one of the sites, he said.

MCAT also plans to soon place orders for five replacement buses, but it will take up to 18 months for them to be delivered. The buses cost about $200,000 each.

The county-operated bus system also plans to purchase and install security cameras and fencing at the Palmetto transit center and another one on 301 Boulevard. It also plans to improve disabled access at various bus stops and shelters countywide with the stimulus money.

“We’ll do those where needed,” Heseler said.

The MCAT grant is among $25 billion that has been released for more than 7,700 transportation projects throughout the United States and U.S. territories, DOT said.

Heseler said he was glad to get a part of it.

“It feels good because we’ll be able to do some things we would not have been able to do or might have taken a long time to pay for,” he said.

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

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