Manatee, Sarasota road projects get extra $4M

MANATEE — A year ago, local officials pared their transportation project wish lists for federal stimulus funding because they feared there would be too little money to go around.

Now, they’re facing the opposite situation.

Lower-than-expected bids have saved nearly $4 million that now can be spent on other local projects, the Florida Department of Transportation told the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization on Monday.

“We covered all of the projects you wanted, and now we have a little bit left over,” said Stan Cann, secretary of the FDOT district that includes both counties.

The surpluses total $2.95 million in Manatee and $1 million in Sarasota, he said in asking the MPO where it wants the extra money to go.

The MPO, a board of elected officials that sets transportation priorities for the bi-county region, unanimously voted to leave that decision up to each county’s commissioners.

But before the vote, there was some lobbying among MPO members for the excess money.

Jim Bennett, a Venice councilman, advocated possibly using Sarasota County’s excess toward building the regional Legacy Trail. Longboat Key Vice Mayor Jim Brown suggested some sidewalk projects in his town.

And Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash, who made the motion to let the counties decide, said installing a sidewalk between Kingfish Boat Ramp and Manatee Beach is a good possibility.

The jockeying was reminiscent of a year ago, when the MPO was putting together its stimulus priority list. The initial list was based on the expectation that the two counties would get $20 million.

When FDOT later said $15 million was more likely, the MPO list was scaled back to that amount. The MPO also removed and replaced other projects that didn’t meet federal eligibility criteria.

The final award was $14.1 million, not enough to fully fund the last priority: resurfacing University Parkway between Interstate 75 and U.S. 301.

At the time, MPO members agreed to apply any excess stimulus money that might become available toward that project.

Savings on other projects more than made up the difference, FDOT said. And the University Parkway project likely will come in $1.88 million under budget, accounting for almost half of the surplus.

Two FDOT-chosen stimulus projects in the area — a traffic-management system in Manatee and resurfacing a portion of U.S, 301 in Sarasota — also are costing less than anticipated. However, the $7.8 million in savings might not be spent locally because it has to be returned to a statewide pot for redistribution, FDOT spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons said.

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