FDOT plan is ‘good news’ for local roads

MANATEE — State transportation officials don’t anticipate dropping any planned projects in Manatee County through 2015 despite — and because of — the economy, according to a proposed work plan.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s draft tentative work program for the next five fiscal years does not delete any projects, delays a small railroad-crossing project by a year and adds money for several big-ticket items.

That’s a far cry from the past few years, when FDOT incurred local officials’ wrath by postponing several major projects.

The difference this time? Although the economy has meant less revenue for road projects, it’s also made those projects far cheaper, an FDOT spokeswoman said Wednesday.

“We’ve had dramatic decreases in costs,” such as a 50 percent drop in the price of dirt and a 25 percent reduction in asphalt prices in the past year, Cindy Clemmons said.

Overall highway construction costs have fallen by 14 percent nationally since last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s largely because of falling prices for petroleum, a major source of asphalt and fuel for heavy equipment. Contractors also are submitting lower bids as they chase fewer projects.

The infusion of federal stimulus money also has freed up more state money for roads, officials said.

Local officials praised FDOT’s proposed plan, which remains subject to change and won’t become final until after next year’s legislative session.

“It’s really, really good news all around for Manatee County, especially after four really tough years,” said Michael Howe, executive director of the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Added Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, a longtime MPO member: “I was pleasantly surprised.”

Officials said the biggest surprise was the addition of almost $10 million for U.S. 301 in Parrish. That money is earmarked toward designing and buying land needed to widen the road from County Road 675 to Moccasin Wallow Road. Actual construction, though, isn’t expected until 2016 at the earliest.

“That’s a huge bonus,” Howe said of the new money.

Other new projects in the five-year plan include:

n Improving U.S. 41’s intersections with 53rd and 57th avenues west in fiscal 2014.

n Resurfacing First Street/U.S. 41 from U.S. 301 Boulevard to 23rd Avenue in fiscal 2013.

n Widening 44th Avenue East between 30th and 45th streets east in fiscal 2013.

n Installing sensors, closed-circuit television cameras and other items along Interstate 75 from Interstate 275 to Hillsborough County in fiscal 2015.

The MPO is scheduled to review the proposed work program Monday.

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